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Dozens in Bangkok protest new Aung San Suu Kyi charges

Video by Susana FERREIRA

Text by Susana FERREIRA

Latest update : 2009-05-18

Some 60 protesters at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok denounced new charges against opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi (pictured). On the eve of her trial, Aung's lawyer says she is in good health and ready to defend herself.

Reuters - Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi is in good health and ready to defend herself against new charges that have sparked international outrage against the country's military rulers, her lawyer said.

 

Kyi Win, Suu Kyi's main defence lawyer at her trial due to start on Monday, was allowed to meet the Nobel Peace laureate for one hour at a "guest house" inside Insein Prison on Saturday.

 

"She asked me to tell her friends and everyone that she is quite well," Kyi Win told Reuters. "She is ready to tell the truth that she never broke the law."

 

On the eve of the closed-door trial, police readied barricades near Insein, the country's most notorious prison and home to many political prisoners.

 

Suu Kyi, 63, and two female companions are charged with breaking the conditions of her nearly six-year house arrest after an American intruder sneaked inside her lakeside villa.

 

If convicted, she faces up to five years in jail.

 

Critics say the charges are aimed at keeping the charismatic opposition leader, whose house arrest is due to expire on May 27, in detention ahead of elections in 2010.

 

Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990 only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962.

 

The generals have detained Suu Kyi for more than 13 of the past 19 years, much of it at her home on a leafy Yangon avenue guarded by police, her phone line cut and visitors restricted.

 

Suu Kyi's doctor, Tin Myo Win, was freed late on Saturday after being detained for nine days over the incident at her home. He had been treating her for low blood pressure and dehydration, and activists fear for her health in prison.

 
Mystery swimmer
 

The American intruder, John Yettaw, first tried to meet Suu Kyi when he swam to her home on Nov. 30 last year, according to a copy of the police complaint translated by the U.S. Campaign for Burma, a pro-democracy group.

 

He tried again on the night of May 3.

 

"This time, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi allowed him to stay at her residence until the night of May 5, 2009, spoke with him and provided him food and drinks," the police complaint said.

 

Kyi Win said Suu Kyi had told Yettaw to leave, but he refused. She did not report him to authorities because "she did not want anybody to get into trouble because of her", he said. Yettaw, described by state media as a 53-year-old psychology student from Missouri, has been charged with "illegal swimming", immigration violations and encouraging others to break the law.

 

His motives remain unclear, but speculation about his role in the latest crackdown on Suu Kyi has swirled for days in Yangon.

 

"I think the regime must be behind this incident one way or another. They do not want to free Daw Suu," a retired politician, using the Burmese honorific for older women, said.

 

The junta has so far ignored the international outcry.

 

In Bangkok, about 60 protesters gathered outside the Myanmar embassy to denounce the "ridiculous" charges against Suu Kyi.

 

They shouted "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" and waved banners that said: "We want democracy" and "UN where are you?".

 

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has expressed "grave concern" over the charges against Suu Kyi, but Burmese exiles want the U.N. Security Council to act against the regime.

 

On Friday, U.S. President Barack Obama renewed sanctions against the military government, saying its actions and policies, including the jailing of more than 2,000 political prisoners, continued to pose a serious threat to U.S. interests.

 

Washington has led the West in tightening sanctions, but Asian neighbours with an eye on the country's rich timber, gas and mineral reserves have favoured a policy of engagement.

 

Neither policy has succeeded in coaxing meaningful reforms from junta leader Senior General Than Shwe, who is widely believed to loathe Suu Kyi.

 

He has vowed to press ahead with a seven-step "roadmap to democracy" expected to culminate in a 2010 election that the West derides as a sham to entrench the military's grip on the country.

 

 

Date created : 2009-05-17

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