25th Feb 2024

Europe calls for democracy in Burma after Suu Kyi release

A plethora of European leaders welcomed the release of Burmese democracy fighter Aung San Suu Kyi over the week-end and urged the military junta in Rangoon to free the remaining political prisoners. Human rights groups called the release a "cynical ploy" to divert attention from the recent rigged elections.

Called a "personal hero of mine" by US President Barack Obama and an "inspiration" to the leaders of France, Britain and Germany, Ms Suu Kyi was released from house arrest on Saturday (13 November), where she spent 15 of the past 21 years.

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"She dared to resist tyranny, to stand up for her principles and to accept the consequences of her actions," European Parliament chief Jerzy Buzek said about the Burmese opposition leader, who in 1990 was awarded the Parliament's Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

Mr Buzek joined calls of EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton for the Burmese junta to release all remaining political prisoners.

"It is essential that Aung San Suu Kyi have unrestricted freedom of movement and speech; and that all remaining political prisoners be set free," Ms Ashton said.

Over 2,000 political prisoners are still incarcerated in Burma by the military regime. Among them is a famous comedian, Zargana, serving a 35-year sentence for criticizing the military government's slow response to Cyclone Nargis and a blogger, Nay Phone Latt, who used his blog to spread news about the 2007 protests and was subsequently sentenced to 12 years in prison.

The EU's special envoy for Myanmar, Piero Fassino, also called for "a real democratic transition" to take place in Burma, so that "all hostility towards ethnic minorities" is put to an end.

In her first speech after her release, Ms Suu Kyi told thousands of supporters on Sunday she wants "to work with all democratic forces" to bring change to the military-led country and said that the "basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech."

Speaking to the BBC earlier that day, the 65-year old democracy fighter said she had been subject to a better treatment than the other political prisoners who spent decades in jail and did not rule out the possibility of being arrested again.

"I know there is a possibility of being re-arrested. It's not something I'm looking forward to, because you can't do as much as when you're free," she said.

Ms Suu Kyi will try to re-legalise her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), which was banned in 1990 when it won in a landslide in the last democratic elections before the generals took over.

Human rights groups meanwhile were sceptical regarding the chances for a real opening to take place in Burma.

New York-based group Human Rights Watch called the junta's move a "cynical ploy" to deflect criticism of its recent election which took place on 7 November and re-confirmed the rule of the generals, to the outcry of the international community.

"Ms Suu Kyi has been in a revolving door from detention to freedom for more than 20 years, so the real question is how long she will be free this time and under what conditions," HRW's Asia expert Elaine Pearson said.

Amnesty International said Suu Kyi's release "marks the end of an unfair sentence that was illegally extended, and is by no means a concession on the part of the authorities."



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