Pro-junta thugs in Myanmar clashed yesterday with hundreds of supporters of democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, hurling abuse and preventing them from marching to a vigil for the detained Nobel laureate, witnesses said.
Holding photos of the 61-year-old, as many as 500 members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party shouted "Free Aung San Suu Kyi" as they staged a rally outside the party's headquarters in Myanmar's largest city, Yangon.
The supporters had intended to go on to a Buddhist pagoda in downtown Yangon to pray for Suu Kyi's release, but were blocked by about 100 supporters of the junta, leading to a tense stand off, witnesses said.
The junta supporters shouted abuse at the other side for about 15 minutes, and one NLD elected member was dragged away by them, witnesses said, asking not to be named due to the sensitivity of the matter.
"Please understand that we are not frightened by your threats ... we will proceed with peaceful gatherings," Min Ko Naing, a prominent anti-government activist, was quoted as telling the junta supporters.
"We can pray for her from here," he said from outside the NLD head office.
Police vans were parked nearby and the rally ended peacefully.
The junta is also believed to be holding about 1,200 political prisoners, most of them elected members of the NLD.
"Release immediately and unconditionally all political prisoners of conscience including members of parliament who are imprisoned for their beliefs," the NLD said in a statement.
The rally came two days after the junta extended Suu Kyi's house arrest for a fifth year. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has spent more than 11 of the past 17 years in detention.
The order keeping her under house arrest at her residence in Yangon was due to expire yesterday, but officials told her of its one-year extension on Friday afternoon.
Authorities have since beefed up security near Suu Kyi's lakeside residence and extended barbed wire barricades on her street. Her street was closed to traffic and police with batons were deployed near roadblocks.
"Extending the detention by one more year amounts to ignoring calls by world leaders for her release," a statement by the NLD said.
In a letter last week to Senior General Than Shwe, the junta's chief, 59 former world leaders -- including ex-US presidents George Bush, Jimmy Carter and Bill Clinton, and former British prime ministers John Major and Margaret Thatcher -- urged Suu Kyi's release.
Meanwhile, pro-democracy activists urged the military junta to accept the results of the 1990 election yesterday -- the 17th anniversary of the ballot, in which Suu Kyi's party won an overwhelming victory.
The results were rejected by the military regime, which claimed that it first needed to draft a constitution.
It has never been completed.
"Calling for a political solution based on the 1990 election results does not mean demanding power, but achieving national reconciliation and democratization," the 88 Generation group, named after the year in which the military brutally suppressed democracy protests, said in a statement.