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Quiet prayers, protests as Suu Kyi turns 61

Rallies were due to be held in over 25 nations across Asia, Europe and North America to demand the freedom of the Nobel laureate.

india Updated: Jun 19, 2006 11:36 IST

Buddhist monks chanted prayers to mark the 61st birthday of detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday, while pro-democracy activists around the world planned protests against the military junta.

Rallies were due to be held in more than 25 countries across Asia, Europe and North America to demand the freedom of the Nobel Peace Laureate, who has spent 10 of the past 17 years in some form of detention.

But their protests will likely fall on deaf ears in Yangon, where the military, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, clamped tight security on the road outside Suu Kyi's home.

"It is temporary," a police official said as armed security officers manned barricades and prevented traffic from passing.

At the ramshackle headquarters of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD), party leaders gave offerings to Buddhist monks and planned more ceremonies later in the day.

"This is the 61st birthday of our leader. It's a very important day," said Nyan Win, a spokesman for the main opposition party which won an election landslide in 1990 only to be denied power by the military.

Suu Kyi's house arrest was extended for another year on May 27 despite international pressure and a direct appeal from UN Secretary General Kofi Annan to junta leader Than Shwe to "do the right thing".

The United States has since called for the UN Security Council to pressure Yangon, saying the "regime's activities and repression of political rights now poses a threat to stability, peace and security in the region".

But the US initiative is likely to be strongly opposed by veto-wielding council members China and Russia, as well as by Japan, an elected member that lacks veto power.

Suu Kyi's latest stretch of detention began on May 30, 2003, after clashes between her supporters and pro-junta demonstrators.

Since then, "The Lady" as she is affectionately known by her supporters, has been held virtually incommunicado, with her telephone line cut, her mail intercepted and visitors restricted.

A recent stomach ailment raised concerns about her health and her limited access to regular medical care.

"Aung San Suu Kyi could spend the rest of her life in detention if the Security Council continues to avoid its responsibility to tackle the situation in Burma," Yvette Mahon, director of the Burma Campaign UK, said in a statement.

"She has been praised by world leaders, but most have ignored her requests for practical international support.

"On her 60th birthday last year we saw a chorus of calls for her release, but this wasn't followed by any concrete steps by the UN or governments to secure her release," Mahon said.

But whatever the gestures, and whatever their volume, Monday's protests are unlikely to make any difference to a government that appears immune to international pressure.

The generals say they are moving towards democracy under a seven-step roadmap, but the process is still only midway through the first step of drafting a new constitution.

The junta has shrugged off international criticism of its detention of Suu Kyi, calling it an internal affair.