Burma’s main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, denounced the military government’s decision to extend the detention of its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi.
In a statement on Saturday, the NLD described the move as unlawful and warned that it could damage the country’s national reconciliation process.
The statement was issued following a celebration of the 16th anniversary of the party’s landslide election victory in 1990.
“The extension is exactly opposite of what the people expected,” said Nyan Win, a spokesperson for the NLD. Expectations for the release remained high as the democracy icon’s detention was set to expire on Saturday. Officials are said to have extended the detention up to one year.
An estimated 1,000 people, including party members, Rangoon-based diplomats from Western embassies, politicians and activists gathered at the ceremony, held at the party headquarters in Rangoon, according to the spokesperson.
“Numbers of NLD members—as far as Chin and Kachin states—joined the event, hoping for the release of our leader,” said Nyan Win.
Opposition sources say several dozen Suu Kyi’s supporters, who were frustrated with the government’s decision, gathered near her lakeside residence on Saturday, aiming to stage a protest. The group was later ordered to disperse.
Authorities stepped up security near Suu Kyi’s house and the party headquarters. Eyewitnesses said scores of members of the junta’s pseudo-political organization, Union Solidarity and Development Association, were among the security officials.
“Such continued detention will not bring any positive outcome for the country,” said Htay Kyway, a former political prisoner and a student activist in Rangoon told The Irrawaddy today.
Suu Kyi has been detained under her current term of house arrest since a junta-affiliated mob attacked her convoy in Sagaing Division on May 30, 2003. She was charged under provisions of the 1975 State Protection Act (Article 10 b), which empowers the government to detain anyone for up to five years without filing charges.
Amid widespread calls by the international community for the release of the Nobel laureate and democratic reform, the government’s latest move also drew criticism from the region.
“I was hoping [that] the release would come today. So, I'm disappointed,” said Thai Foreign Minister Kantathi Suphamongkhon. Malaysia and Singapore also echoed Bangkok’s disappointment.