Burma frees Aung San Suu Kyi
Tuesday 16 November 2010
The Burmese military junta has released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. The Nobel laureate, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, was greeted by jubilant crowds who had gathered in Rangoon in anticipation of her release.
The US president, Barack Obama, welcomed her release as "long overdue".
There were huge cheers as Aung San Suu Kyi emerged from the the lakeside compound, where she has been confined for the past seven years, and briefly addressed her supporters.
"If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal. We have a lot of things to do," she said.
She said she would speak at greater length tomorrow at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD). Her lawyer Nyan Win said she would meet NLD leaders before deciding on her next move.
University Avenue, where Aung San Suu Kyi lives, and which has been blocked off for seven years, has been transformed into part-party, part-vigil after thousands flocked to the gate of the house. People were weeping openly at the news she had been released, cars were beeping horns and some people were dancing while others sat by her bamboo fence, singing and chanting, "Good health Aung San Suu Kyi".
Thousands of people wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words, "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi". It is a T-shirt that would have landed them in jail a few weeks ago.
Meanwhile, the police, who are usually feared as the frontline of Burma’s brutal security apparatus, have faced ridicule and ironic cheers, with two armed platoons, dressed in riot gear and carrying shotguns, standing to attention across the road for most of the afternoon.
Officers began moving the barricades from around the house at around 4.30pm (10.30am GMT). When they were finally given the order to leave, they were jeered all the way down the street.
Obama described the pro-democracy leader as a hero and called on Burma’s military leaders to release all the regime’s political prisoners.
"While the Burmese regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi, she has continued her brave fight for democracy, peace, and change in Burma," he said.
"She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world. The United States welcomes her long overdue release.
"Whether Aung San Suu Kyi is living in the prison of her house, or the prison of her country, does not change the fact that she, and the political opposition she represents, has been systematically silenced, incarcerated, and deprived of any opportunity to engage in political processes that could change Burma."
The prime minister, David Cameron, and former prime minister Gordon Brown welcomed the end of her detention.
Cameron said: "This is long overdue. Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration for all of us who believe in freedom of speech, democracy and human rights.
"Her detention was a travesty, designed only to silence the voice of the Burmese people. Freedom is Aung San Suu Kyi’s right. The Burmese regime must now uphold it."
Brown said: "There will be joy round the world at the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, the world’s most renowned and courageous prisoner of conscience.
"Her release proves that no injustice can last forever, and while Burma’s junta can continue its policy of repression it has never been able to wholly silence her voice."
Amnesty International’s secretary general, Salil Shetty, welcomed the release but cautioned that it should not been seen as a concession by the military junta.
"The fact remains that authorities should never have arrested her or the many other prisoners of conscience in Burma in the first place, locking them out of the political process."
He added that the authorities should ensure her security and "put an end to the ongoing injustice of political imprisonment in the country".
There are more than 2,200 political prisoners in Burma still held under vague laws frequently used to criminalise peaceful political dissent, according to human rights campaigners.
Zoya Phan, international co-ordinator at Burma Campaign UK, said: "The release of Aung San Suu Kyi is about public relations, not democratic reform.
"I am thrilled to see our democracy leader free at last, but the release is not part of any political process, instead it is designed to get positive publicity for the dictatorship after the blatant rigging of elections on 7 November.
"We must not forget the thousands of other political prisoners still suffering in Burma’s jails."
It is not yet clear whether the junta has attached any conditions to Aung San Suu Kyi’s release, but it is expected the government will attempt to impose some. During her previous brief spells of liberty, the military restricted where she could go, including confining her to Rangoon, and with whom she could meet.
It had been unclear if the ruling generals would respect the expiry of the detention order due to fears she would revive her fight against the dictatorship in one of the world’s most oppressive nations.
Analysts said it was likely only the paramount leader, Senior General Than Shwe, and his closest allies knew the next steps for her.
With the 7 November election, the first in 20 years, out of the way and won by an army-backed party, the generals could seek some international legitimacy with her release. The charismatic daughter of the slain hero of Burma’s campaign for independence from Britain has a huge international following.
Her release could be the first step towards a review of western sanctions on the resource-rich country, the largest in mainland south-east Asia. It could also divert attention from an election widely dismissed as a sham to cement military power under a facade of democracy.
"The regime needs to create some breathing space urgently," said a retired Burmese academic, who asked not to be identified. "Her release will help improve an image tarnished by electoral fraud."
Source: The Guardian