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Obama calls on Myanmar to free Aung Suu Kyi

US President Barack Obama called on Myanmar's junta on Tuesday to "immediately and unconditionally" free democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, saying she was the victim of a spurious show trial. "It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners," Obama said.

world Updated: May 27, 2009 12:19 IST

US President Barack Obama called on Myanmar's junta on Tuesday to "immediately and unconditionally" free democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, saying she was the victim of a spurious show trial.

Obama escalated US pressure on Myanmar's ruling generals after the Nobel laureate took the stand for the first time in her trial at Yangon's notorious Insein jail and argued she had not violated the terms of her house arrest.

"I call on the Burmese government to release National League for Democracy Secretary General and Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi from detention immediately and unconditionally," Obama said in a written statement.

"I strongly condemn her house arrest and detention, which have also been condemned around the world.

"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," Obama said.

Obama lauded Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) for her "profound patriotism, sacrifice, and the vision of a democratic and prosperous Burma" despite being confined to years of house arrest.

The Obama administration has been reviewing its policy towards the military-ruled state after neither the stick of international sanctions nor the carrot of engagement have persuaded Myanmar's generals to loosen their grip.

Obama's statement contained the merest hint that Myanmar's future prospects of engagement with the western nations could depend on how it deals with the case, amid fears Aung San Suu Kyi could be jailed for up to five years.

"It is time for the Burmese government to drop all charges against Aung San Suu Kyi and unconditionally release her and her fellow political prisoners," Obama said.

"Such an action would be an affirmative and significant step on Burma's part to begin to restore its standing in the eyes of the United States and the world community and to move toward a better future for its people."

Obama's Secretary of State Hillary Clinton last week said the administration was trying to see if pressure from third countries like China and India, could obtain Aung San Suu Kyi's release.

Aung San Suu Kyi was testifying for the first time at the maximum security prison, in a case that has drawn widespread international condemnation of the country's iron-fisted military junta.

"I didn't," the 63-year-old replied when a judge asked her whether she had breached the restriction order keeping her at her residence, according to reporters and diplomats present at the hearing.

The long-standing figurehead of Myanmar's opposition movement, Aung San Suu Kyi faces up to five years in jail if convicted. She has been under house arrest or in jail for 13 of the last 19 years, including the last six.

She said the first she knew of the bizarre visit by American army veteran John Yettaw was when her assistant woke her up at around dawn on May 4 to tell her that a man had arrived at the house.

"I did not inform them," she said when asked by the judge whether she had told Myanmar's military authorities about the intrusion.

Critics accuse Myanmar's junta of trumping up the charges in a bid to keep Aung San Suu Kyi locked up during elections due in 2010. Her party won the country's last elections, in 1990, but was never allowed to take power.

Successive US administrations have spoken out vocally on Aung San Suu Kyi's behalf, along with European Union states and other nations, but her plight has barely improved for years.

Earlier this month, Obama extended US sanctions against Myanmar. Clinton had said she wanted to find a "better way" to sway the country's military leaders, but that was before the military's latest showdown with Aung San Suu Kyi.

The military has ruled Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, since 1962.