Myanmar democracy icon Suu Kyi marks 66th birthday in freedom, first time in nearly a decade

YANGON, Myanmar – For the first time in nearly a decade, Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her birthday in freedom on Sunday, with supporters freeing symbolic caged birds as more than 50 state security agents watched from across the street.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate turned 66, and received one gift at Yangon’s international airport: the arrival of her youngest son, Kim Aris, who lives in Britain and kissed his mother on arrival.

“If I were asked what I would wish on my birthday, I wish for peace, stability and prosperity in the country,” Suu Kyi said in a brief address to supporters at her opposition party’s headquarters in Yangon.

Suu Kyi said there are “sparks of war flying” in the country, apparently referring to recent fighting between government troops and ethnic Kachin rebels in the north which displaced thousands.

The celebration was attended by around 500 party members and supporters, who held candles in their hands as they wished Suu Kyi well. They then released balloons into the air and freed dozens of sparrows and doves from cages in her honour.

Across the street, more than 50 plainclothes police and intelligence agents took photos and videotaped those who came and went.

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Suu Kyi has celebrated 15 birthdays in detention or house arrest over the past 22 years, and this was the first in nine years that she was able to mark freely with friends, family and supporters.

Ruled by the military since 1962, Myanmar held its first elections in 20 years in November. Suu Kyi was released from seven years of house arrest just days after the poll, which her party boycotted. The junta handed power to a civilian government in March, but critics say it’s merely a front for continued army rule.

Last year, Suu Kyi marked her birthday alone, locked in her dilapidated lakeside compound while world leaders called for her release and supporters held sombre ceremonies elsewhere in Yangon in her honour.

Born June 19, 1945, in Rangoon, as Yangon was then known, Suu Kyi won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her determined nonviolent struggle for democracy.

She was last detained in May 2003 after her motorcade was attacked in northwestern Myanmar by a pro-junta mob while she was on a political tour. This month, she is planning her first trip across the countryside since that ill-fated tour.

Since her release last year, Suu Kyi has continued to be outspoken, but little has changed in the repressive nation, which still holds more than 2,000 political prisoners and deploys security agents to monitor Suu Kyi closely.

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