Detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s political party marked Myanmar’s independence day Friday with calls for her freedom, and for the release of political prisoners seized during last year’s crackdown on pro-democracy protests.
Two youth members of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy were arrested on the eve of the holiday, bringing the total of jailed NLD members to 97, said party spokesman Nyan Win.
About a dozen activists and youth members of the party held a 10-minute protest outside NLD headquarters in Myanmar’s largest city, Yangon. They dressed in shirts and sarongs that were blue - the color of prison uniforms - and held up their hands to mimic being arrested.
About 300 party members, diplomats and activists attended the NLD event. Plainclothes officers videotaped their comings and goings from across the street.
There were no public festivities to mark Myanmar’s 60th anniversary of independence from Britain, a struggle led by Suu Kyi’s late father Gen. Aung San, who is regarded as a national hero.
Myanmar’s junta chief Than Shwe, in his annual holiday message, called for the country’s cooperation in building what he called a “discipline-flourishing democratic state”.
He did not directly mention his troops’ September crackdown on pro-democracy street rallies - a move that sparked global outrage. But he reiterated that the military-ruled government will make democratic reforms according to its own so-called road map.
The junta’s crackdown on the protests, which were led by Buddhist monks, killed at least 31 people according to a UN investigator. His tally was twice the toll acknowledged by the junta.
The envoy, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, also said that 650 people remained in custody from the crackdown and that 74 others were missing.
Than Shwe’s annual message focused on the junta’s progress toward its road map to democracy, which has been the theme for years. It was carried in Myanmar’s three state-run newspapers and read aloud by an official at an annual flag-raising ceremony in Yangon.
He noted that the country’s eventual constitution was being drafted according to the ‘fundamental principles’ outlined by a constitutional convention, which finished its task in September.
The convention’s principles call for the military to maintain a prominent role in politics. They also bar detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from holding elected office.
The seven-stage road map is supposed to lead to a general election at an unspecified future date, but critics call it a sham designed to keep the military in power.
The convention - the road map’s first stage - started in 1993 and took 14 years to finish its task. The actual constitution drafting process started in December.
After gaining independence from Britain in 1948, Myanmar, also known as Burma, experimented with democracy until 1962, when the military seized power.
The current junta emerged in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by Suu Kyi’s party. The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been under house arrest for 12 of the past 18 years.
“The essential first step toward building a democratic state and achieving national reconciliation is the process of political dialogue,” the NLD said in a statement read out at its party headquarters. It called for the immediate release of all political prisoners and monks who ‘peacefully demonstrated their beliefs and wishes’ in last year’s protests.
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