|Speculation about the release of Myanmar's detained opposition leader has swept across the country [AFP]
Supporters of Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader in Myanmar, have gathered near her home as unconfirmed reports circulated about her imminent release from house arrest.
News agencies quoted members of her party as saying they had heard that her release was imminent, and the word spread quickly through internet reports that Suu Kyi was set to walk free on Friday.
Reports quoted government insiders, state officials and well-connefcted sources as saying Senior General Than Shwe, Myanmar's military ruler, had signed an order for her release.
But in one of the world's most secretive states, few outside Than Shwe's inner circle really know what is going on. Analysts and Myanmar-based diplomats say even his ministers are kept in the dark.
Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991 and the 1990 elections in a landslide, has been held for 15 of the last 21 years. Her latest term of detention was due to expire on Saturday, a date set in August by Than Shwe.
One government official said he believed Suu Kyi would be released but he could not confirm it.
David Mathieson, a Myanmar specialist with Human Rights Watch based in Thailand, said: "This is the nature of Than Shwe and his regime. fGovernment people don't know, Suu Kyi's party doesn't know and the experts certainly don't know.
"No one knows any more than anyone else. We know her house arrest expires on Saturday and everything else is all within the realm of speculation."
Myanmar held its first election in 20 years last Sunday which was won by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party.
The vote was widely seen as flawed and fraudulent as the ruling generals sought to strengthen their grip on power.
With the election out of the way, the regime might seek to win some international legitimacy by freeing Suu Kyi.
But Al Jazeera's special correspondent in Yangon, who who cannot be identified for security reasons, said it is a "very confusing situation".
"Rumours continue to circulate and people speculate when she may be released," he said.
"We have heard reports that release papers had been served by the military regime to Aung San Suu Kyi, clearing the way for her release.
"But we've spoken to her lawyer once again and he says that they still have nothing about when she can be released. The lawyer said the papers have not been served [and] that it is just rumours."
Bo Hla Tint, who was elected as a representative of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) in 1990 but fled Myanmar when the military rejected the election results, said he was confident she could be released as her release is long "over due".
The United States reacted to news of Suu Kyi's imminent release saying that "our policy is that all political prisoners in Burma need to be released".
"Burma needs to have a meaningful dialogue with all society," P J Crowley, the state department spokesperson, said.
"It needs to change its relationship with its people. So it is unclear whether any one step will change our policy. There are many, many things that Burma has to do."
About 400 people gathered in front of the NLD's headquarters, many holding placards with her picture.
Some 300 others waited on the street outside her tightly guarded, lakeside home in Yangon, Myanmar's largest city, as rumours swirled she could be freed as early as Friday.
|Many believe expectation of Suu Kyi's release is
premature at such a critical juncture post polls [AFP]
There was also speculation Suu Kyi had rejected an offer of conditional release and some media reported diplomats as visiting her.
However, many believe expectation of her release is premature at such a critical juncture in a transition from dictatorship to army-dominated democracy.
The military regime might see the release of Suu Kyi, the hugely popular daughter of Myanmar's independence hero, as a threat to its political process as a new government has yet to be formed.
In a county where the courts always favour the military, there could be any number of reasons the authorities could use to detain Suu Kyi beyond the 18 months she was given for allowing an American intruder to stay at her home for two nights last year.
Her unexpected visitor, John Yettaw, swam across a lake to her home to warn Suu Kyi "terrorists" would try to kill her, and God had sent him to save her.
The NLD, which was dissolved for boycotting Sunday's election, continues to operate illegally and some see that as a possible pretext to keep her locked up.
"I think the regime has been lenient with the NLD to lay a trap for her," said a retired civil servant.
Suu Kyi was first detained in 1989 and freed for the first time in 1995. She was detained again in 2000, released in 2002 and detained again in 2003 after she and some supporters were attacked by a gang on a trip to the provinces.
"I think she will be released but I am really worried about her safety," Ma Kyi, a roadside vendor, said.
Al Jazeera and agencies