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Aung San Suu Kyi Celebrates Birthday Behind Bars



Campaigners across the globe are honoring the birthday Friday of Burma's detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Burmese pro-democracy leader spent her 64th birthday at Rangoon's notorious Insein prison, where she is on trial and facing up to five years behind bars.

Activists and politicians are marking Aung San Suu Kyi's 64th birthday with gatherings of support from Thailand to Europe and the United States.

In addition, a coalition of 23 Burma rights groups has formed "64forsuu.org", a website where supporters can post messages urging her release from detention.

Johnny Chatterton is with the Burma Campaign UK and Project Manager for 64forSuu.org. He says they have received over 9,000 messages of support, including from politicians and celebrities.

"I think the site is very important in showing that right across the world people have not forgotten her," Chatterton said. "And, that there's a huge political support for her and there's public support calling for her to be freed. So, I think it's a great help in showing the Burmese regime that they can't just get away with this and that the world won't forget her."

Aung San Suu Kyi is on trial for violating the terms of her house arrest by allowing an uninvited American man to stay over without official permission.

The trial has been widely condemned as a sham designed to keep her locked up through next year's controversial elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won Burma's last elections in 1990. But Burma's military rulers ignored the results and placed her under house arrest, where she has remained for most of the last 19 years.

Burma's military rulers cite ongoing fighting with ethnic insurgent groups in the country to partly justify their continued grip on power.

However, rights groups and exiled politicians say the detention of Aung San Suu Kyi, along with more than 2,000 other political prisoners, is the real barrier to peace.

Zin Linn is a spokesman for the Burmese government in exile.

"Aung San Suu Kyi is key to the national reconciliation in Burma," Linn said. "Without her, Burma cannot have genuine national reconciliation. That's because all the ethnic leaders, ceasefire leaders, all the ethnic party leaders, all dissident leaders, all the leaders, they agree to give their mandate to Aung San Suu Kyi to sit down at the dialogue table with the military junta."

Aung San Suu Kyi led Burma's non-violent resistance movement for democracy, and in 1991 was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts.

She is the daughter of Burma's revered founder, General Aung San, who was assassinated just months before the country gained independence.

Paulo Pinheiro was the U.N. human rights envoy to Burma from 2000 to 2008 and on several occasions met Aung San Suu Kyi as well as Burmese officials. He says if it was not for her famous father the military government would probably have executed her by now.

"Because she has an enormous charisma and she is the only leader inside Burma of the opposition," Pinheiro said. "And, they don't want to risk having her in freedom. They don't want to deal with a strong opposition movement."

Burmese authorities have already re-worked the constitution to ensure the military remains in power regardless of the 2010 elections.

Pinheiro says it is almost certain the court will find Aung San Suu Kyi guilty, but would likely put her back under house arrest rather than prison.

Supporters are concerned her health would quickly deteriorate in prison.

But there is little doubt about the resilient spirit of Aung San Suu Kyi and the movement for democracy in Burma that she represents.


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