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Home / World / Poverty saps local interest in Myanmar's Suu Kyi trial

Poverty saps local interest in Myanmar's Suu Kyi trial

While the international community condemns the prison trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, many people in military-ruled Myanmar have more pressing concerns as they struggle to make ends meet.

world Updated: Aug 03, 2009, 07:18 IST

While the international community condemns the prison trial of Aung San Suu Kyi, many people in military-ruled Myanmar have more pressing concerns as they struggle to make ends meet.

"I saw some barricades near the jail when I passed by on the bus but I have no interest in the verdict," father-of-two Maung Zaw told AFP.

The 40-year-old said he earns a meagre 1.50 dollars a day through his two jobs in construction and as a shop worker.

"I am only interested in my daily wages for my family which is a more important thing for me," he said.

Speculation is rife among diplomats and foreign observers as to the sentence the Nobel laureate could face if she is convicted of breaching her house arrest rules, after an American man swam to her lakeside home in May.

But while the international community awaits the verdict in the court case at Yangon's Insein prison, now expected on August 11, many in the poverty-stricken country are more preoccupied with daily financial worries.

Cho Mar, the 30-year-old manager of a tourism company who earns 250 dollars a month, was also concerned about the economy in what is one of the world's least developed countries.

"Although we are interested in her we have to see to our own situation first as we struggle in our daily life because our economic situation has been declining in recent years," he said.

As Suu Kyi's trial reconvened in the commercial hub of Yangon Friday, there were a noticeable lack of tourists in the area, which has been shunned by many because of Myanmar's 47 years of military rule.

Cyclone Nargis further deterred visitors in May 2008, which swept through the country's southwest, leaving 138,000 people dead.

At the Shwedagon pagoda, the city's leading attraction, tour guides and photographers milled about with nobody to employ them, while the few Asian visitors who did walk through the compound tried not to slip on loose tiles.

In a middle-class neighbourhood south of the city, two men in a cafe, who declined to be named, joked about "one very famous tourist" -- a reference to John Yettaw, the uninvited US man who swam to Suu Kyi's house, sparking her trial.
Foreign critics say the court case is a ploy to keep Suu Kyi, widely known as "The Lady" in Myanmar, locked up for elections scheduled for 2010.

The junta has detained her for a total of nearly 14 years since refusing to recognise her party's landslide victory in elections in 1990.

The United States and the European Union have imposed sanctions against the Myanmar regime, demanding the release of Suu Kyi and more than 2,000 political prisoners.

But the impact of those sanctions has been weakened as neighbours, notably China; spend heavily on resource-rich Myanmar's natural gas, timber and precious stones.

However, a report in May said that while the country's foreign exchange reserves were at a record 3.6 billion dollars, the junta had not used them to help the people and the country's economic prospects were "bleak".

The report from the International Monetary Fund, quoted by the Financial Times newspaper, said social spending was the lowest in Asia.

This was even as the regime, officially known as the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), continued to splash out on showcase projects including the building of the new administrative capital Naypyidaw.

There are also serious concerns about the regime's military spending.

A report on Saturday, citing the evidence of defectors, said North Korea is helping Myanmar build a secret nuclear reactor and plutonium extraction plant to build an atomic bomb within five years.

"The poverty endured by the people in Burma is because of the SPDC's policy," said activist Debbie Stothard of the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, referring to Myanmar by its former name.

Despite many citizens living a "hand-to-mouth existence", Stothard said she did not believe they were uninterested in Suu Kyi's fate.

"I think many are concerned about the trial and those who have access to information realise that their suffering is linked to the crisis in the political situation".

Htwe Htwe, a 50-year-old housewife in Yangon, agreed that there was a lot of interest in the trial, although it was often discreet.

"People in the market and at the teashops are secretly discussing the verdict," she said. "People want to know what will happen to her."

But some, it seems, have lost hope of a positive future. One taxi driver, who did not wish to be named, had a dog-eared stash of copies of the state-run newspaper on his passenger seat and laughed when asked if he read them.

"No, I use these for cleaning the windshield when it fogs up. It's a waste of time to read that newspaper," he said.

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