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31 July 2009

Junta tighten security ahead of Suu Kyi verdict

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Riot police sealed off the court trying Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi in military-run Myanmar ahead of Friday's verdict that could send the frail icon of democracy to prison for up to five years, reported the Associated Press.

The 64-year-old opposition leader is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an American man who swam to her house uninvited.

Security was heightened for the high-profile verdict, with teams of riot police stationed nearby and all roads leading to the prison blocked by barbed-wire barricades.

Suu Kyi's lawyers remained cautiously hopeful as they headed into the tightly guarded court at Insein Prison.

"The charges against our client are not strong and we are confident that we will win if things go according to the law," said lawyer Nyan Win, who said a day earlier that Suu Kyi was "preparing for the worst" and stocking up on medicine and reading material in case she is sent to prison.

Suu Kyi is charged with violating the terms of her lengthy house arrest when an American intruder swam across a lake and spent two nights at her home in May. Her trial has drawn international condemnation since it opened May 18 and many critics see it as a pretext to keeping her behind bars through the country's planned elections next year.

She is widely expected to be convicted, although there has been speculation she may stay under house arrest rather than serve time in jail. Suu Kyi has been in detention for 14 of the last 20 years, since leading a pro-democracy uprising in 1988 that was crushed by Myanmar's military junta.

A verdict will also be given Friday for the uninvited American visitor, John Yettaw, 53, and two women who lived with Suu Kyi — Khin Khin Win and her daughter Win Ma Ma — and face charges similar to hers. Yettaw is charged as an abettor in violating her house arrest and faces up to five years in prison.

If convicted, the charismatic mother of two will return to an isolated life, her days filled with meditation, reading books and getting the occasional censored letters. Knowing she could be put behind bars, Suu Kyi provided her lawyers with a list of requested items, which they were able to bring her, Nyan Win said.

"She is collecting some medicine and many books in English, French and Burmese," he said.

Suu Kyi's lawyers have not contested the basic facts of the case but argued that the law used by authorities against her is invalid because it applies to a constitution abolished two decades ago. They also say that government security guards stationed outside Suu Kyi's compound should be held responsible for any intrusion.

UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon told reporters in New York on Wednesday that he hopes the government will respond to his repeated appeals to free Suu Kyi.

But neither outside pressure nor the possibility of better economic and political ties with the West has deterred the ruling junta, which appears determined to find Suu Kyi out of the public eye.

SuuKyi's party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power. Next year's promised elections will be the first in two decades.


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