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June 19, 2009

Aung San Suu Kyi's Birthday

Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has marked a grim 64th birthday in prison, as activists took to the Internet and staged worldwide protests to call for her release and an end to her trial.

Famous names including British Prime Minister Gordon Brown, Beatles legend Paul McCartney and US actors George Clooney and Julia Roberts offered support on a website while world leaders called for the ruling junta to free her on Friday.

The military regime has kept the Nobel Laureate in detention for 13 of the past 19 years, and she is now on trial at Yangon's notorious Insein Prison over a bizarre incident in which an American man swam to her home.

Key aide Nyan Win said he had gone to the prison to take her a spicy rice dish, chocolate birthday cake and flowers which she planned to share with guards. He handed over the gifts but was not allowed to see her, he said.

"She ordered the food so that she could donate it to those around her in prison, and there are no other prisoners near her. She will hold a small ceremony there," said Nyan Win, the spokesman for her National League for Democracy.

Around 300 supporters gathered at the NLD's headquarters in Yangon and offered food to Buddhist monks at dawn, before releasing 64 doves and balloons into the air in a symbol of freedom before sharing a birthday cake.

Security was tight for the celebrations at the party's base with plainclothes police officers videotaping people entering the building and five police trucks patrolling nearby, witnesses said.

The ruling generals 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."

Myanmar's top court will next Wednesday hear an appeal by her lawyers to reinstate two witnesses who were barred from testifying, an official said on condition of anonymity.

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 a party by Myanmar refugees living on the border with Thailand.

McCartney, John Lennon's widow Yoko Ono and author Salman Rushdie on Friday became the latest celebrities to add special statements of 64 words or less to the website "64 for Suu."

"Aung San Suu Kyi is an inspiration to her country and the rest of the world," said McCartney's message said, while Ono's read simply: ""FREE Daw Aung San Suu Kyi NOW!"

Britain's Brown earlier posted a video on the site, while Clooney, Roberts, footballer David Beckham and rocker Bono signed a letter saying: "Now is the time for the international community to speak with one voice: Free Aung San Suu Kyi."

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 of Myanmar's political prisoners, especially Aung San Suu Kyi.

European Union leaders are to make a 64-word call Friday for her release. 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", while Australia voiced "grave concern" over her treatment.

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

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.

Source: AFP

About June 2009

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