REM lead calls for release of Burma's Suu Kyi

 

Ireland joined in worldwide demonstrations of support for detained Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi yesterday, after US rock band REM paid tribute to her in a song to mark her 60th birthday at their Dublin concert last night.

The band, who are currently on a European tour, organised for the song to be broadcast into Burma via an Oslo-based TV station. Other acts playing at last night's concert in Dublin's Ardgillan Castle included Moby, the Zutons, and the Devlins.

REM's initiative is part of a series of global events including protests at Burmese embassies, aimed at drawing attention to Ms Suu Kyi's 2,523rd day in detention on her 60th birthday.

Ms Suu Kyi, leader of the National League For Democracy party, was detained most recently after junta sympathisers attacked her convoy while she was on a political tour of northern Burma more than two years ago. She remains under house arrest at her family's compound in the capital Yangon.

She has been detained several times before. Her longest period of house arrest was from 1989 to 1995. She won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize.

Last year, the Government told Burma that diplomatic relations were possible if it improved its record on political progress, human rights and fundamental freedoms.

But Minister for Foreign Affairs Dermot Ahern yesterday said the continued house arrest of Ms Suu Kyi made diplomatic links with Burma impossible.

"We have raised this issue at every available forum and are part of EU moves to put pressure on that regime to let this lady out," he said. "We fully accept and agree that this [house arrest] should not happen.

"We are one of those countries who are leading the moves in this respect."

Opponents of Myanmar's military junta marked the occasion with solemn protests across Asia, including a 500-strong gathering in the capital of the former Burma.

In Washington, President George Bush added his voice to those demanding her release. He also called for the results of 1990 elections, which she won by a landslide, to be honoured. "I send my best wishes to Aung San Suu Kyi for her 60th birthday," he said. "Her strength, courage, and personal sacrifice in standing up for the oppressed people of Burma have inspired those who stand for freedom," Mr Bush said.

UN Secretary General Kofi Annan was among those appealing yet again for Ms Suu Kyi's release. She has spent nine of the last 16 years behind bars or under house arrest.

In Myanmar's leafy capital Yangon, where roadblocks around her lakeside home keep away everybody except for her doctor, around 500 people met at the dilapidated headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party. After a ceremony to raise money for other political prisoners, such as Ms Suu Kyi's party number two, Tin Oo, members released 10 pigeons and 60 helium-filled balloons into the air to chants of "Long live Aung San Suu Kyi".

Across the road, plainclothes security policemen recorded the event with video cameras. - (Additional reporting Reuters)