From tree planting in Myanmar to a solidarity rally in Washington and flash mobs in Britain, people around the world are holding events to mark the 65th birthday today of Aung San Suu Kyi.
Supporters of Myanmar’s iconic democracy leader plan to throw a small party for her at one of their houses in northern Yangon, but Aung San Suu Kyi won’t be there.
Instead the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, in detention for almost 15 years, is expected to spend a quiet day at her lakeside residence, where she is kept without telephone or Internet access, cut off from the outside world.
Members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) are planting about 20,000 saplings around Myanmar to mark her birthday.
“It’s difficult without Daw Suu in a leading role, but we try our best with our belief because we have seen Daw Suu struggling for the people,” said Min Zaw Oo, a 29-year-old NLD youth member.
“Daw” is a term of respect in Myanmar.
“She’s our role model, so we will continue to believe in her. We always pray for her release. Not only on her birthday,” Min Zaw Oo said.
Nandar Lin, 22, said women NLD youth members would today recall Suu Kyi’s past speeches “as a birthday present to her.”
“I haven’t seen Daw Suu in person since I joined the party in 2007,” she said.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s soft voice and demeanor belie her status as the biggest threat to the ruling junta ahead of elections planned for sometime this year.
Her party won the last vote in 1990 but was never allowed to take office, and she is barred from standing in the upcoming polls — the country’s first in two decades.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is a global symbol of moral courage in the face of repression,” said former US president Jimmy Carter, who attended a recent gathering in South Africa of eminent former leaders to mark her birthday.
Britain yesterday called for her immediate and unconditional release.
“Aung San Suu Kyi is 65 this Saturday, having spent 14 of the last 20 years under house arrest,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said.
“Her continued detention, and that of more than 2,100 other political prisoners in Burma [Myanmar], contravenes international human rights law and casts a long shadow over planned elections in the country,” Hague said.
“I urge the military regime to release all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally, and respect the human rights of Burma’s people,” he said.
Aung San Suu Kyi studied at Oxford University and married a British academic, Michael Aris. He died in 1999, 10 years after she was placed under house arrest for helping set up the NLD.
“This is more than a human tragedy — it is a tragic waste of talent, vision and leadership for a country that desperately needs all three,” Hague said.
Among events planned worldwide, activists will stage a rally today outside the Capitol Building in Washington, while in London campaigners planned a demonstration yesterday in front of the Myanmar embassy.
Elsewhere in Britain, supporters are calling for flash mobs — large groups of people who mass suddenly in public places — to gather today in different locations with Aung San Suu Kyi face masks to raise awareness of her plight.
In Bangkok, opposition groups held a ceremony where they cut a birthday cake and delivered speeches calling for her release.
“She will spend another birthday under house arrest as a political prisoner,” said Zipporah Sein, general secretary of the Karen National Union, one of the biggest ethnic groups fighting Myanmar’s junta.
About 70 activists also rallied yesterday in front of the Myanmar embassy in the Philippines, demanding her release.
The mostly women demonstrators carried large posters of Aung San Suu Kyi staring out from barbed wire.
The activists with yellow flowers recited poems, sang songs, and called for democracy in the junta-led country. They sang “Happy Birthday,” slicing a cake with candles forming the number 65.
Rally leader Egoy Bans of the Free Burma Coalition urged Philippine president-elect Benigno Aquino III’s administration and other Southeast Asian leaders to step up pressure on Myanmar to free Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners so they can participate in this year’s election.
“We see her continued detention as an insult to democracy and justice, as women in Burma have long been suffering and continue suffering from sexual abuses and denial of their fundamental rights,” activist Yuen Abana said.
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