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Myanmar frees political detainees

Government releases 44 prisoners, the latest in a series of amnesties by the country's reformist government.

Last updated: 11 Dec 2013 10:04
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The latest amnesty came as dignitaries gathered for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games [Reuters]

Myanmar has freed 44 political detainees, a presidential adviser has said, the latest in a series of prisoner amnesties by the country's reformist government.

"In total 44 political prisoners have been released around the country today," Hla Maung Shwe told AFP news agency on Wednesday.

President Thein Sein has pledged to release all prisoners of conscience in Myanmar by the end of the year.

The former general, who took power in March 2011, has earned plaudits and the removal of most western sanctions for reforms that have included freeing hundreds of critics detained under the previous military government.

Under his leadership, the nation has undergone dramatic changes including the election of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to parliament.

But activists say authorities continue to prosecute dissidents.

They accuse the government of using the headline-grabbing prisoner releases for political gain and leverage with the international community.

Emergence from military rule

The latest amnesty came as foreign dignitaries gathered in Myanmar's capital for the opening ceremony of the Southeast Asian Games.

Myanmar is hosting the games for the first time in more than four decades, marking both a return to international sport and another landmark in its gradual emergence from rule by a hardline military government.

"For 44 years we have not had the SEA Games," said Onh Myint Oo, a former army officer who is now deputy director-general of the sports ministry.

"Now we are open for business. It's the right time to have the games."

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