YANGON, Myanmar – Supporters of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gathered near her home and at her party’s headquarters this morning, hoping to see the Nobel Peace Prize laureate taste freedom after seven years of detention by Myanmar’s ruling generals.
Scores of people holding a vigil were disappointed that she was not given an early release Friday night, but colleagues said an order to set her free had already been signed by Myanmar’s junta. The period of her latest detention expires today.
Jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years, Suu Kyi has become a symbol for a struggle to rid the Southeast Asian country of decades of military rule.
Adding to the expectant atmosphere was a sharply stepped-up security presence in Yangon, with truckloads of riot police cruising the streets and parked at major junctions – a familiar sight to city residents during times of political tension.
The country’s first election in 20 years was held Nov. 7, and critics allege it was manipulated to give a pro-military party a sweeping victory. Results have been released piecemeal and already have given the junta-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party a majority in both houses of parliament.
The 1990 election was won in a landslide by Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy Party, but the military refused to hand over power and instead clamped down on its opponents.
Suu Kyi was convicted last year of violating the terms of her previous detention by briefly sheltering an American man who swam uninvited to her lakeside home, extending a period of continuous detention that began in 2003, after her motorcade was ambushed in northern Myanmar by a government-backed mob.
“My sources tell me that the release order has been signed,” said Tin Oo, vice chairman of Suu Kyi’s party. “I hope she will be released.”
More than 100 people gathered today at the ramshackle NLD headquarters, with women cooking food and people bringing flowers to place before posters of Suu Kyi and her late father, revered independence hero Gen. Aung San.