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NEWS UPDATES Asean Affairs     12 October  2011                       

Myanmar frees prisoners

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Myanmar freed dozens of political prisoners on Wednesday, including a comedian who is one of its most famous dissidents, in a further sign of change in the authoritarian state after decades of repression.

The release of roughly 2,000 political detainees including pro-democracy campaigners, journalists, monks and lawyers, has long been a key demand of Western powers that have imposed sanctions on the country also known as Burma.

The Thailand-based Assistance Association for Political Prisoners said at least 70 political detainees were being freed.

"I think we will see some more," said spokesman Aung Khaing Min.

The prominent satirist and vocal government critic Zarganar, who goes by one name, was among those released as part of a pardon of more than 6,300 prisoners by the new nominally civilian leadership, his sister-in-law told AFP.

The dissident was arrested in 2008 after organising deliveries of aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis -- which left 138,000 people dead or missing -- and sentenced to 59 years' imprisonment, later reduced to 35 years.

Several hundred prisoners were being released from Yangon's notorious Insein Prison, including student activist Aung Kyaw Soe, who was arrested in 1990 and sentenced to death, later reduced to life in prison.

"I was released after serving 21 years and two days. I am glad that I was freed but I am also sorry for the people who are still inside the prison," he said outside the jail gates.

Many of Myanmar's political prisoners were sentenced to decades in jail and have endured "torture and other forms of cruel, inhuman or degrading treatment", according to rights group Amnesty International.

A mass pardon of dissidents would be arguably the clearest sign yet of change under a new government that has reached out to critics including pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was freed in November.

State television announced on Tuesday that more than 6,300 elderly, sick, disabled or well-behaved prisoners would be granted an amnesty from Wednesday "on humanitarian grounds".

It said freeing detainees would allow them to "help to build a new nation".

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This year in Thailand-what next?

AseanAffairs   04 January 2011
By David Swartzentruber      

It is commonplace in journalism to write two types of articles at the transition point between the year that has passed and the New Year. As this writer qualifies as an “old hand” in observing Thailand with a track record dating back 14 years, it is time take a shot at what may unfold in Thailand in 2011.

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