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25 July 2009

Myanmar extends trial of Aung San Suu Kyi

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Myanmar's military regime, adjourning pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's trial until Monday, gave no indication it will heed calls this week by the United States and Asian countries to free the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, the Associated Press reported.

Suu Kyi, 64, is charged with violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an uninvited American man who swam to her lakeside home and stayed for two days. She faces up to five years in prison.

Suu Kyi's lawyer said she was "deeply dissatisfied" with Friday's court session because it gave the prosecution more time to prepare its case.

Western diplomats in Yangon generally believe that Suu Kyi will be found guilty, with the verdict expected sometime next month.

The resumption of the trial Friday came after US, European and Asian officials - including Myanmar's top diplomat - wound up a regional security conference in neighboring Thailand at which Myanmar's human rights record was in the spotlight. Most agreed that Myanmar's ruling junta should be urged to release Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton offered Myanmar the prospect of better relations with the United States, but said that depended in part on the fate of Suu Kyi.

Myanmar state media rejected the criticism, accusing those calling for Suu Kyi's release of "interference."

"Demanding the release of Daw Suu Kyi means showing reckless disregard for the law," said an editorial in the New Light of Myanmar, the junta's mouthpiece. "Daw" is a term of respect in Myanmar.

The newspaper also accused the United Nations of interfering in Myanmar's internal affairs, citing UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon's repeated urging that Suu Kyi be freed.

A European Union diplomat who attended Friday's court session said he did not believe the calls by the international community would have any impact because the outcome of the trial has already been decided, but another diplomat said they could have some effect. Both spoke on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Suu Kyi's lawyer, Nyan Win, said the trial was adjourned until Monday after Suu Kyi's defense gave a 30-page closing statement.

"Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said she was absolutely dissatisfied with the arrangement - giving more time for the prosecution to prepare the argument," Nyan Win said. He said that to insure fairness the usual practice is for courts to have both parties give closing arguments on the same day.

On Monday, Suu Kyi's two female companions, who are also on trial, are to give their statements, and a lawyer for American John W. Yettaw, who is charged with trespassing, is to present his argument.

The defense has not contested the facts of the case but argues that the law used by the authorities against Suu Kyi is invalid because it applies to a constitution abolished two decades ago. It also says that government guards stationed outside Suu Kyi's compound should be held responsible for any intrusion in her property.

Security was tight around Insein Prison - where Suu Kyi is being held and also the site of the trial - with roads blocked with barbed wire barricades manned by police. Seven truckloads of riot police were deployed around the compound.

Diplomats from Britain, France, Germany, Norway and Italy who had earlier requested access were allowed into the courtroom for Friday's session. It was the third time during the mostly closed-door trial that such access has been granted.

The trial has drawn condemnation from the international community and from Suu Kyi's local supporters, who worry that the ruling junta has found an excuse to keep her behind bars through elections planned for next year.

The trial started May 18. The court approved 23 prosecution witnesses, of which 14 took the stand. Only two out of four defense witnesses were allowed.

Yettaw has pleaded not guilty and explained in court that he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he had gone to warn her.

Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

Suu Kyi's opposition party won national elections in 1990, but Myanmar's generals refused to relinquish power. Suu Kyi has been under house arrest for 14 of the past 20 years.


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