Thursday, May 28, 2009

Suu Kyi's party marks bitter anniversary of Myanmar vote

YANGON (AFP) - Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi freed doves and prayed Wednesday on the anniversary of an election win annulled by Myanmar's junta, as a US man who triggered the democracy icon's trial was set to testify.

As the Nobel laureate's closed trial on charges of violating her house arrest continued, around 300 members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) lit candles and held a minute's silence in a ceremony at party headquarters.

Dozens of plainclothes security officials videotaped and photographed people entering the event, including some western diplomats, while security was boosted across the city, witnesses said.

The NLD scored a landslide victory in Myanmar's last democratic elections 19 years ago on May 27, 1990, but the military regime never allowed Aung San Suu Kyi to form a government.

"We are releasing them to call for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo," an announcer said as the birds and balloons were sent into the air. Tin Oo is the detained deputy leader of the party.

Aung San Suu Kyi has been in detention for 13 of the last 19 years and is currently being held at the notorious Insein Prison near Yangon, facing up to five years in jail if convicted at her trial.

American John Yettaw was expected to take the stand on Wednesday and explain why he decided to cross the lake to her residence earlier this month using a pair of home-made flippers.

"John William Yettaw is set to testify on Wednesday," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win, who is also part of the opposition leader's legal team and has been present at the trial.

Aung San Suu Kyi told the judges on Tuesday she had not breached the terms of her house arrest, saying that she had only offered "temporary shelter" to Yettaw.

In a statement she submitted to the trial, which was released on Wednesday by the NLD, she blamed security failures by the ruling junta for the incident, saying she was therefore innocent of the charges.

She added that she did not immediately report the incident to the military regime to avoid causing "harm" to Yettaw or members of the security forces stationed at her house.

"The basic reason for this case is a security failure or security breakdown. No action was taken regarding security but it was me who was charged," said the statement.

Yettaw, a 53-year-old Mormon and US military veteran who stayed at the house for two days, has previously said that he had a vision that Aung San Suu Kyi would be assassinated and wanted to warn her.

Yettaw and two female aides who live with Aung San Suu Kyi area are also on trial.

The trial has sparked international outrage, with US President Barack Obama late Tuesday calling on Myanmar's military rulers to "immediately and unconditionally" release the 63-year-old democracy leader.

"Aung San Suu Kyi's continued detention, isolation, and show trial based on spurious charges cast serious doubt on the Burmese regime's willingness to be a responsible member of the international community," he said in a statement.

Critics accuse Myanmar's junta of trumping up the charges in a bid to keep her locked up during elections due in 2010.

Myanmar authorities unexpectedly informed Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday morning that her latest six-year period of house arrest was officially over -- although she remains in detention at the prison.

The term was due to expire on May 27 but the junta had earlier said it had the right to extend it for another six months.

Aung San Suu Kyi and Tin Oo have both been detained since May 30, 2003 -- six years ago on Saturday -- following a deadly attack on her convoy during a party visit to northern Myanmar by an allegedly government-backed mob.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962.

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