Saturday, August 1, 2009

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) | Judges on Friday postponed the verdict in pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s trial until Aug. 11 - a sign, activists said, that the ruling junta is hesitating in the face of outrage abroad and fears of unrest at home.

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate is accused of violating the terms of her house arrest by harboring an American man who swam to her lakeside house and secretly entered the compound. Critics say the military has seized upon the bizarre intrusion as an excuse to keep Mrs. Suu Kyi jailed through next year’s scheduled elections - the country’s first free vote in nearly two decades.

But the charges against Mrs. Suu Kyi - who has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years and was under house arrest at the time of the incident - have refocused international outrage on Myanmar.

Activists and other supporters of Mrs. Suu Kyi said it was difficult to determine the reason behind the delay, though the regime may be struggling with how to present the verdict - which Mrs. Suu Kyi herself has said is already “painfully obvious” - to the world.

“Since she was charged, there has been huge amount of pressure from inside and outside of Burma,” said Soe Aung, a spokesman for Forum for Democracy in Burma, a Thai-based, pro-democracy coalition. “The postponement may show they are having a difficult time. In other words, this may show they are feeling the heat especially from outside the country.”

Others noted the ruling generals may worry the announcement would set off protests - and so have pushed it to after the sensitive Aug. 8 anniversary of the failed 1988 uprisings.

“The announcement of a guilty verdict will instigate public anger and will be easier for underground activists to organize mass demonstration,” said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. “Combined with international denunciation, that will be major problem for the regime to control the unrest.”

Authorities were clearly anxious before the trial and detained 10 members of Mrs. Suu Kyi’s opposition party, the National League for Democracy. They were arrested after praying for Mrs. Suu Kyi at Yangon’s famed Shwedagon Pagoda and released after several hours, said one of Mrs. Suu Kyi’s defense attorneys, Nyan Win.

Security was heightened ahead of the expected verdict, with teams of riot police stationed nearby. All roads leading to Yangon’s Insein prison - where the trial is being held in a court inside the compound - were blocked by barbed-wire barricades.

Verdicts were also postponed for the American, John Yettaw, 53, and two women who lived with Mrs. Suu Kyi - Khin Khin Win and her daughter, Win Ma Ma. The women face similar charges to Mrs. Suu Kyi, and Mr. Yettaw is accused of abetting in violating the house arrest. He faces up to five years in prison.

U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon renewed his request Thursday that Myanmar release Mrs. Suu Kyi and asked the government to “give careful consideration to the implications of any verdict,” U.N. associate spokesman Farhan Haq said Friday.

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