YANGON (Reuters) - Supporters of Myanmar’s detained pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, marked her 65th birthday on Saturday amid renewed calls in the West for her release.
The Nobel peace prize winner has spent 15 of the last 21 years in detention because of her fight for democracy in the army-ruled country, also known as Burma, and is under house arrest in her home in the former capital, Yangon.
U.S. President Barack Obama on Friday renewed a call for Myanmar’s military rulers to release Suu Kyi and urged a dialogue for national reconciliation in the impoverished but gas-rich country which borders both India and China.
“I once again call on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners immediately and unconditionally and to allow them to build a more stable, prosperous Burma that respects the rights of all its citizens,” Obama said in statement.
About 400 people, most of them members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), held a ceremony at the home of a party member in Yangon to celebrate Suu Kyi’s birthday.
Buddhist monks were offered breakfast early in the morning and later, caged birds were freed and books and stationery were given to the children of detained party members.
Trees were planted inside a Buddhist monastery on the eve of her birthday, party official Aung Thein told Reuters.
Security men in plain clothes kept watch outside and photographed people turning up. Half a dozen truck loads of riot police were parked nearby but there was no trouble.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of the hero of the country’s campaign for independence from British rule, Aung San. She was first detained in 1989, a year after she emerged as a champion of political reform during an unsuccessful, student-led democracy uprising.
Her NLD won a landslide election victory in 1990, only to be denied power by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962 and is preparing to hold the first election since then this year.
Last year, she was found guilty of breaking a draconian security law in connection with briefly harboring an American intruder after he swam to her lakeside home.
International critics of the generals accused them of trumping up the charges to sideline Suu Kyi from the election.
Critics say the vote will cement military rule under a veneer of civilian control and her party is boycotting it.
Myanmar is subject to U.S. sanctions over its human rights record but under Obama, the United States has pursued a policy of deeper engagement with the generals.
About 200 of Suu Kyi’s supporters in neighboring Thailand, including exiled politicians, monks and students, held a ceremony near the border to mark her birthday and called on Myanmar’s neighbors to reject this year’s polls.
Authorities have yet to set a date for the general election.
Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick in Washington and Somjit Rungjumratrussamee in Mae Sot; Editing by Robert Birsel