Suu Kyi supporters hope, pray for her freedom

Supporters of Burma's democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi gathered Saturday in anticipation of her expected release from the lakeside home that has been her prison for most of the past two decades.

Supporters of Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi hold pictures of her as they gather outside the National League for Democracy (NLD) headquarters in Rangoon. Burma's detained democracy icon could be just hours away from freedom Saturday as her many supporters wait anxiously for the end of her current term of house arrest.

Dozens waited anxiously outside her party's headquarters and her crumbling mansion, a day after hundreds had massed in the hope of a glimpse of the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner.

Many wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words: "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi."

Although Burma's most famous dissident has been in detention for the past seven years, sidelined and silenced by the ruling generals, for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.

"We are praying for her release. We are very excited," said Cho Cho, a 35-year-old housewife in Rangoon.

Suu Kyi, still seen as the biggest threat to the junta after almost five decades of military dictatorship, has been locked up for 15 of the past 21 years, but her most recent sentence is close to an end.

The authorities have said her release is imminent, even though some fear the generals may find an excuse to extend it.

"She will be released today," a Burma government official told AFP on Saturday, speaking on condition of anonymity.

Suu Kyi's detention was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.

Around 50 journalists and locals were stationed outside Suu Kyi's home Saturday as party leaders prepared for her expected release.

"We haven't heard anything yet but we still have our hope," said one of her lawyers, Nyan Win.

Without a clear idea of when she might be released, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party could not prepare a schedule, he said.

"If she is released very late, I cannot say what we can prepare for the people," added Nyan Win, who is also the NLD's long-time spokesman.

The daughter of Burma's independence hero General Aung San swept her party to victory in elections two decades ago, but it was never allowed to take power.

When the softly-spoken but indomitable opposition leader was last released in 2002 she drew huge crowds wherever she went -- a reminder that years of detention had not dimmed her immense popularity.

Some observers believe her release could come with restrictions to ensure she cannot threaten the generals or the military-backed government to which they are preparing to hand over power.

But Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Rangoon in defiance of the junta's orders.

Suu Kyi's freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international condemnation of Sunday's election, the first since the 1990 vote.

Western nations and pro-democracy activists have criticised the poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.

The NLD's decision not to participate in the election deeply split Burma's opposition and Suu Kyi's party has been disbanded, leaving her future role uncertain.

Partial election results show that the army-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) has already won a majority of the parliamentary seats available.


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