Several winners of the Nobel peace prize have appealed to Burma's military leadership to release democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest. The appeal came during a rally in the Norwegian capital, Oslo, where more than 30 Nobel laureates took part in a three-day symposium marking the 100th anniversary of the prestigious peace prize. The rally was linked simultaneously by satellite to similar events in other cities, and was broadcast live on the Internet.
The voice of Archbishop Desmond Tutu roared out from the steps of Norway's parliament building and around the world at the start of the salute to Aung San Suu Kyi, who has never been to Oslo to pick up the Nobel prize she was awarded in 1991.
In his inimitable style, Bishop Tutu, who won the prestigious award in 1984 for his leadership of the fight against apartheid in South Africa, referred to the petite Burmese democracy leader as a giant in moral stature.
"So big men are scared of her and armed to the teeth, and they still run scared," said Bishop Tutu. "Because they know this is a moral universe, and injustice and oppression will never have the last word. They know, dear sister Aung, that you are on the winning side, and we say to the rulers of Burma/Myanmar. Join the winning side. Become winners together with our sister, who has given so much inspiration and encouragement to many."
The crowd standing in a freezing rain in front of Norway's parliament building included a distinguished array of Nobel peace prize laureates, including the Dalai Lama, Polish Solidarity leader Lech Walesa, and East Timor's independence leader Jose Ramos Horta.
They, along with viewers at other locations worldwide and on the Internet, were able to see a simultaneous, early morning rally in Washington. There, former Secretary of State Madeleine Albright issued a strong warning to Burma's military leaders that history will judge them harshly unless they free Aung San Suu Kyi and 1,500 other detained democracy activists.
"To Burma's leaders, our message is this: You and you alone are responsible for your nation's isolation and misery," said Ms. Albright. "It is you who are holding Burma back, betraying traditions and stifling the energy and enterprise of Burmese people. Your time is not forever, and you will be held with contempt, unless you begin now to move toward democratic change."
The worldwide audience was also treated to some videotaped messages from Aung San Suu Kyi, which have been smuggled out of Burma. In the messages, she calls on the world to provide moral support to Burmese democracy activists. "Burma's problems stem from bad governance, and unless we can change that, we cannot do anything about the social and human problems that are destroying our country today," she said. "So democracy first, as we say. And we can get democracy, because this is the direction in which the world is heading. But we need practical help, practical help in the form of moral support, and coordinated international action to ensure that democratic change comes to Burma as soon as possible."
As part of their campaign to support Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel laureates have signed a letter to General Than Swe, head of Burma's ruling military junta. The letter demands the release of the democracy leader and 1,500 other political activists, and says human rights violations in the country are widespread.
At the same time, the message expresses satisfaction that the military leadership has recently increased cooperation with a special United Nations envoy and other international groups, and calls on Burma's rulers to allow a delegation of Nobel Peace laureates to visit Aung San Suu Kyi.