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Protests around the world to mark Suu Kyi birthday

Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marked a grim 64th birthday in prison Friday, as activists took to the Internet and planned worldwide protests to press the military junta to free her.

world Updated: Jun 19, 2009 10:58 IST

Myanmar pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marked a grim 64th birthday in prison Friday, as activists took to the Internet and planned worldwide protests to press the military junta to free her.

Famous names including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, footballer David Beckham and US actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts all offered support on a website while the United States and EU led political calls for her release.

The Nobel Laureate has spent 13 of the past 19 years in detention and is now being held in Yangon's notorious Insein Prison during her trial for a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her home.

Supporters at her National League for Democracy's headquarters in Yangon began the day by giving food to Buddhist monks at dawn, and were later due to release doves and balloons into the air in a symbol of freedom, witnesses said.

Security was tight, with plainclothes police officers videotaping people entering the building, uniformed policemen standing further away and five police trucks patrolling near the building.

"We have to hold the birthday party without the host again. We would be very happy if she could be released, we are hoping and praying for this," said senior party member Lei Lei.

The ruling junta refused to recognise the NLD's landslide victory in 1990 elections and critics say the latest charges against her are trumped up to keep her behind bars for polls promised by the generals in 2010.

Her trial, which could see her jailed for up to five more years, has provoked international outrage and was denounced by US President Barack Obama as a "show trial."

European Union leaders are to make a 64-word call Friday for her release at the end of a two-day summit in Brussels. They will say she "tirelessly defended the universal values of freedom and democracy," according to a draft statement.

The US State Department, in a birthday message, urged the junta to free Aung San Suu Kyi "immediately" and hailed her as a woman who has "dedicated her life to achieving democratic change and promoting progress in Burma."

"We, along with all of her admirers in Burma and abroad, look forward to the day when she will be able to celebrate her birthday in freedom," the State Department statement said, using Myanmar's former name.

In Washington, Myanmar exiles toasted the opposition leader at a birthday party on Capitol Hill while in London Gordon Brown's wife Sarah hosted a screening of a film dedicated to her.

Events were scheduled in more than 15 cities around the world, ranging from live music and speeches in Malaysia, evening vigils in Ireland and Australia and debating forums in Thailand.

Myanmar refugees in Thailand fleeing a military offensive against ethnic Karen rebels in the east of the country were planning events in the border town of Mae Sot.

Former Beatle Paul McCartney, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and other celebrities were set to add special 64-word statements to the website "64 for Suu."

A host of actors and performers have also left messages on the site. Other female Nobel laureates including Iran's Shirin Ebadi wrote in a joint message on the website that they looked forward to the day their "sister" would be free.

US actor Kevin Spacey and British celebrities Stephen Fry and Eddie Izzard have left Twitter postings about the campaign.

A global petition was delivered on Monday to UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, signed by more than 670,000 people from 220 countries, calling for the release of all Myanmar's political prisoners, especially Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ban is set to travel to Myanmar in early July after a visit to Tokyo, Japan's Kyodo news agency reported Friday, citing unnamed UN diplomatic sources. There was no immediate confirmation from the UN.

At the US Capitol complex, Myanmar exiles and activists clinked glasses in salute to the opposition leader.