Asia-Pacific

Suu Kyi supporters await release

Supporters gather outside the headquarters of Ms Suu Kyi's NLD party in Rangoon (13 November 2010)
Image caption Supporters have gathered outside the headquarters of Ms Suu Kyi's NLD party

Hundreds of supporters of Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi have gathered outside her home for a second day, ahead of her expected release.

Her latest term of house arrest expires on Saturday and her lawyer, Nyan Win, said he hoped she would be freed later.

The lack of news has led to a stand-off between riot police and her supporters.

Ms Suu Kyi, who has been detained for 15 of the last 21 years, may not accept a conditional release if it excludes her from political activity.

The junta has restricted her travel and freedom to associate during previous brief spells of liberty, and demanded she quit politics.

The 65-year-old was originally due to be released last year, but a case involving an American who swam across Inya Lake to her home, claiming he was on a mission to save her, prompted the latest 18-month detention.

Last Sunday, the political party supported by the military government won the country's first election in 20 years. The ballot was widely condemned.

'Very excited'

Crowds of people have been waiting anxiously for news of Ms Suu Kyi's fate on the road leading to her home and the headquarters of her now-banned National League for Democracy (NLD) party. Some are wearing T-shirts sporting the slogans "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi".

"We are praying for her release. We are very excited," Cho Cho, a housewife from Rangoon, earlier told AFP news agency.

An elderly NLD supporter told Reuters: "We are wishing her the best, and we pray that if she is freed our country and our people can experience change."

There has so far been no formal statement from Burma's ruling generals on Ms Suu Kyi, but her lawyer Nyan Win told reporters on Saturday morning: "Nothing has happened so far, but her house arrest expires today."

"We don't know for certain whether or not she is going to be released. But we hope that she will be," Nyan Win added.

By late afternoon, witnesses said a stand-off had developed between armed riot police and several hundred of Ms Suu Kyi's supporters who had gathered on the other side of the security barricade blocking the road leading to her lakeside home.

Some of them later sat down in the road in an act of defiance of military authority, they added.

The BBC is banned from reporting in Burma, but a correspondent in Rangoon says that if the information void remains unfilled, concern about the fate of Ms Suu Kyi will grow, and the situation could become very unpredictable.

Trucks full of riot police have been seen on the streets of Rangoon since Friday. Plain-clothed police are also filming and photographing people who have turned out to demand Ms Suu Kyi's release, and the media.

Image caption Access to Ms Suu Kyi's lakeside home is restricted

A number of sources inside Burma have told the BBC that documents authorising Ms Suu Kyi's release have been signed.

Officials have reportedly visited her home in University Avenue to deliver them.

Nyan Win said she would meet with the NLD's central committee, members of the media and the public once she was freed. He noted that after earlier detentions, she always visited the Shwedagon pagoda, one of the most sacred sites in Burma.

The British ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn, has told the BBC that the UK and EU are pressing hard for Ms Suu Kyi's unconditional release, and that her freedom would have a "significant impact".

Elections criticised

The increasing speculation that the ruling generals may sanction Ms Suu Kyi's release follows the country's first elections in 20 years on Sunday.

Earlier this week, state media announced that partial results showed that the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), had secured a majority in both houses of parliament.

The USDP had won 190 of the 219 seats so far declared in the 330-seat lower House of Representatives, and 95 of 107 seats in the 168-seat upper House of Nationalities, the reports said.

Those elected included the leader of the USDP, Prime Minister Thein Sein, who retired from the military as a general in April to stand.

The junta has said the election marks the transition from military rule to a civilian democracy, but the opposition, many Western governments and human rights groups have said the election was neither free nor fair.

The NLD - which won the last election in 1990 but was never allowed to take power - was ordered to dissolve after refusing to take part.

A quarter of seats in the two new chambers of parliament will be reserved for the military. Any constitutional change will require a majority of more than 75% - meaning that the military will retain a casting vote.

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