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Supporters of Myanmar's jailed leader Suu Kyi mark her 79th birthday with a flower-themed protest


BANGKOK (AP) — Supporters of Myanmar’s imprisoned ousted leader Aung San Suu Kyi carried out peaceful flower-themed protests marking her 79th birthday on Wednesday, some taking to the streets in defiance of the military government’s repression.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace prize winner who led a decades-long struggle against military rule, was detained on Feb. 1, 2021, when the army seized power from her elected government. She is serving a 27-year prison term on what are widely regarded as charges that were contrived to keep her from political activity.

She is one of more than 20,600 people currently detaine d for opposing military rule, according to the independent Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, which documents arrests.

Pro-democracy street protests in Suu Kyi’s honor were held openly Wednesday in parts of the country not under the control of the army, including in Sagaing and Magway regions in central Myanmar, and Tanintharyi in the south, as well as in Kachin state in the north.

Images on social media showed protesters carrying Suu Kyi’s picture and banners reading “Happy Birthday, Steel Rose” and “The steel roses will retaliate against the junta’s oppression without yielding,” referencing one of their hero’s nicknames and adopting the sobriquet for themselves.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the army’s 2021 takeover, which led to nationwide peaceful protests that escalated into armed resistance and what now amounts to a civil war.

However, nonviolent protests continue to be popular, both online and on the ground. They are often coordinated around themes, such as a flower strike.

One common practice is to post online self-portraits along with symbols of the strike or of Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, but with faces obscured to prevent identification by the authorities.

In the southern region of Tanintharyi, hundreds of demonstrators in Dawei district displayed Suu Kyi’s famous slogan “The only real prison is fear, and the only real freedom is freedom from fear.”

Min Lwin Oo, a leader of the Democracy Movement Strike Committee (Dawei), told The Associated Press that the quote was supposed to inspire people to have courage and no fear in carrying out revolution against military dictatorship.

Young people held more discreet protests in the big cities of Yangon and Mandalay, where it's not unusual for security forces to use force to break up demonstrations and make arrests.

Eleven Media, a news outlet that maintains good relations with the military government, reported that 22 people in Mandalay were arrested for alleged involvement in the flower strike.

Tayzar San, a prominent leader of the opposition’s General Strike Coordination Body that organized the strike, said that people’s participation proved that even after three years under oppressive military rule, the revolutionary spirit couldn't be quelled.

Kim Aris, Suu Kyi’s younger son living in London, had urged people to celebrate his mother’s birthday by supporting humanitarian aid campaigns.

“Currently, people who love her want to give her flowers and cakes as birthday presents, but she is in a situation where she is not allowed to accept it,” he said in a statement posted on his Facebook page on Tuesday.

Consequently, her admirers should do as much as they can to help with humanitarian aid, he said.

“I think this will be my mother’s most desired birthday present,” Aris said.

The United Nations has estimated that at least 3 million people in Myanmar have been made homeless by conflict in the last three years and are in desperate need of assistance.

Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party, which the military government declared dissolved last year, released a statement on Wednesday on its Facebook page calling for the release of all the detained political prisoners including Suu Kyi.

Several Western embassies posted pictures of roses and jasmine on their social media pages, with some also issuing statements calling for her and all political prisoners to be released.