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Signature campaign for political prisoners ends

Activists on protest against junta have collected over half-a-million signatures on a petition demanding political prisoners' release.

india Updated: Oct 24, 2006 15:40 IST

Activists staging a rare protest against Myanmar's ruling military junta have collected more than half a million signatures on a petition demanding the release of all political prisoners, an organiser said on Tuesday.

The campaign ended on Tuesday, three weeks after its launch by the "88 Generation Students Group," whose members took part in a 1988 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the military.

"The campaign was a success because we managed to collect 535,580 signatures from across the country despite unfavourable conditions and under extreme difficulty," said an organiser.

"If the people were given just one day of complete freedom, I could garner millions of signatures," he said.

The campaign began a week after authorities detained prominent student leaders Min Ko Naing, Ko Ko Gyi, Htay Kywe, Min Zeya and Pyone Cho.

Surprisingly, officials in the tightly controlled Southeast Asian country did not try to stop the petitioning.

However, on Oct 6 they arrested Win Ko, a member of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition party, who joined the campaign and had 400 signatures in his possession when taken into custody.

Win Ko was sentenced to two years in prison for obstructing the work of a government official who asked him to explain the petitions.

He was also sentenced to another year for possession of illegal lottery tickets, a charge he denied.

The military junta seized power after crushing the 1988 pro-democracy movement in Myanmar, also called Burma.

The junta refused to step down Suu Kyi's party won a landslide 1990 election victory.

Suu Kyi has spent nearly 11 of the last 17 years in detention, mostly under house arrest, despite worldwide calls for her freedom.

Human rights groups say the junta is holding more than 1,100 political prisoners under brutal conditions.

The activists' petition, which also calls for a political dialogue leading to national reconciliation, was to be submitted to Myanmar authorities and the United Nations, but the names of those who signed will not be revealed to protect them from possible government action.