As Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi marks her 60th birthday while under house arrest, her supporters around the world are preparing celebrations for the occasion. Fellow Nobel laureates and pro-democracy activists are renewing calls for her release and for political reform in Burma.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been confined to her Rangoon home for two yeas and has little contact with the outside world. But the outside world remembers the Burmese democracy activist and Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Events marking her 60th birthday on Sunday have been held around the world this month. Protesters have gathered outside Burmese embassies, and international leaders and entertainers are giving speeches and performances in honor of the woman known as "the Lady." Fourteen of her fellow Nobel laureates have joined together to call for her freedom.
Aung San Suu Kyi has spent much of the past 15 years under detention, since her National League for Democracy won national elections. Burma's military government never allowed the NLD to take office, and jailed hundreds of its supporters.
Since then, the military, which has held power for 40 years, has promised change, but there have been few signs of reform, despite economic sanctions and cajoling by Burma's Asian neighbors.
This week, Thailand's Foreign Correspondents Club held an event in her honor, and Aung San Suu Kyi's supporters sent words of hope to her.
South Africa's Archbishop Desmond Tutu, in a taped message, sent his blessings. "My very warmest and best wishes to you my dear sister on your 60th birthday. God's richest blessings on you and may your vision of justice, democracy become a reality for you and all the people of Burma," he said.
Archbishop Tutu called her detention a travesty of justice.
Soe Aung, a member of Burma's Committee for the Union of Burma, read a message sent by Tibet's exiled spiritual leader, the Dalai Lama. "I also take this opportunity to call on the Burmese authorities to release you from isolation and to reopen dialogue with you and your party for the ultimate benefit of all the people of Burma without delay," the message read.
For many Burmese exiles, the event in Bangkok was an emotional one.
|Secretary General in exile of the National League for Democracy, Daw San San, speaks at the Foreign Correspondents Club of Thailand in Bangkok|
Daw San San, now 77, never has taken the seat in Burma's Parliament that she won in the 1990 elections. She was a close adviser to Aung San Suu Kyi and was imprisoned twice in the 1990s. She fled the country in 2003, after the government began a new crackdown on the NLD. "So I want to say happy birthday. Daw Suu [Aung San Suu Kyi] and please be free... I always cry so I stop here. I better stop here, thank you," she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi's struggle for political change in Burma has come at a high personal cost. She is separated from her two sons Alexander and Kim - who live in Britain. Her husband, Michael Aris, died of cancer in 1999; the government refused to allow him a visa to visit his wife during his illness.
Kraisak Choonhavan, a Thai senator and human rights advocate, says the outside world must continue to demand political reform in Burma.
Mr. Kraisak, who knew Aung San Suu Kyi when they were students in Britain in the 1970s, said the opposition leader has shown special courage by remaining in Burma. "She has chosen not to go into exile. She has chosen detainment, she has chosen to stand side by side with her countrymen, countrywomen…. And tonight, today we salute her, and we always salute her," he said.
This song is one of many being played at events honoring Aung San Suu Kyi this week. Organizers of the events say they hope to focus world attention on her plight and Burma's human rights abuses. They want to encourage governments around the world to push Burma's military for change.