Observers allowed at Suu Kyi trial

Observers allowed into court for first time as lawyers warn trial is being "rushed".

    Critics say the trial is an effort to keep Aung San Suu Kyi in jail during national polls next year [AFP]

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    Lawyers representing Aung San Suu Kyi had initially expected her trial to last for months, but after a rapid run of witnesses called by the prosecution they now say it could be over within days.

    Nyan Win, a spokesman for Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) and one of her lawyers, said five of the prosecution's 22 scheduled witnesses testified on Tuesday alone.

    "Now it is very clear that they are trying to speed up the trial," he told reporters at NLD headquarters.

    "If it goes on at this rate, it could even be over by next week."

    Asked what the prosecution's motive might be for speeding up the trial, he said: "They must have their plans, though I don't know."

    Uninvited visitor

    Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been in detention without trial for more than 13 of the past 19 years, is accused of allowing a visitor to stay at her home without official permission.

    The offence is punishable by up to five years imprisonment.

    Nyan Win, Aung San Suu Kyi's lawyer, said the trial may be over by next week [Reuters]
    She is standing trial with two female members of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party who live with her, and John Yettaw, an American citizen who triggered the charges by swimming to her property earlier this month and sneaking uninvited into her home.

    Supporters had hoped that Aung San Suu Kyi would be freed after her current period of house arrest comes to an end after six consecutive years of detention.

    The trial is widely seen as a pretext for the government to keep her in detention during elections the military has scheduled for next year.

    The military has said the vote will mark the culmination of what it calls Myanmar's "roadmap to democracy", but critics say it is a strategy for entrenching military control with a veneer of democracy.

    Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962.

    It last held an election in 1990, but the government refused to recognised the results after a landslide victory by the NLD.

    The trial of Aung San Suu Kyi is being held behind closed doors in Yangon's Inseein jail, which human rights groups say houses dozens of political prisoners.

    The jail has been surrounded with tight security, with a US consular official the only outsider so far allowed to attend the court sessions.

    The official has been permitted to attend because Yettaw, a US citizen, is standing trial.

    Media allowed

    NLD supporters  continue to gather outside Yangon's Insein prison [Reuters]
    On Wednesday however, in a surprise announcement, the government said it would allow some reporters from foreign and local news organisations to observe trial proceedings.

    "Ten journalists will go this afternoon to get the news from the trial," a Myanmar official told the AFP news agency, without explaining the change in policy.

    The official said that five reporters would be from foreign news organisations, and five from local journals and magazines.

    According to the Associated Press, officials have also said that the Russian, Thai and Singaporean ambassadors will be allowed to meet Aung San Suu Kyi after the day's proceedings at the jail "guest house" where she is being held.

    As the trial was due to resume on Wednesday hundreds of police in full riot gear, some armed with rifles, remained deployed along all roads leading to Insein prison.

    About 100 Aung San Suu Kyi supporters gathered peacefully nearby, watched by dozens of plainclothes policemen and more than a hundred members of a pro-government militia.

    Some NLD supporters who gathered near an inner layer of barricades said the pro-government group had tried to provoke them with abuse.

    'Bad words'

    "Some people shouted bad words about Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and tried to start a fight," Ko Yin Aye, a youth member of the NLD, told the Associated Press.

    'Daw' is a term of respect use for older women.

    Aung San Suu Kyi's arrest last week reignited criticism of Myanmar's military rulers and led to renewed calls by world leaders for her immediate release.

    Ian Kelly, the US State Department spokesman said the charges against her were "unjustified'' and called for the unconditional release of her and more than 2,100 other political prisoners.

    Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign minister, has labelled the trial a "scandalous provocation" and the European Union has said it will look at toughening already sweeping sanctions against Myanmar.

    China, which is Myanmar's closest ally, is said to have the most influence with its ruling generals, but has shown no sign it will exert pressure on the government.

    "Myanmar's issue should be decided by the Myanmar people,'' Ma Zhaoxu, the foreign ministry spokesman said at a news conference in Beijing on Tuesday.

    "We hope that the relevant parties in Myanmar could realise reconciliation, stability and development through dialogue."

    SOURCE: Agencies


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