Flower protests in Myanmar for detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi's 76th birthday

Protesters in Yangon on June 19, on the 76th birthday of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.
Protesters in Yangon on June 19, on the 76th birthday of detained civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi.PHOTO: AFP

YANGON (REUTERS, AFP) - Supporters of Myanmar's detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi wore flowers in their hair and paraded with them at street demonstrations on Saturday (June 19) as she marked her 76th birthday locked up by the generals who overthrew her.

Protests have been held almost daily in Myanmar since Ms Suu Kyi was ousted in a Feb 1 coup that cut short a decade of democratic reforms and also sparked paralysing strikes and renewed conflict in the South-east Asian country.

The United Nations General Assembly on Friday called for a stop to the flow of arms to Myanmar and urged the military to respect November election results and release political detainees, including Ms Suu Kyi.

For decades a symbol of the fight for democracy under previous juntas, she often wore flowers in her hair.

Among those wearing flowers on Saturday was activist Thet Swe Win, who had been at odds with Suu Kyi over human rights violations during her own time in office.

"I demand freedom for all the people including Aung San Suu Kyi," he said. "Her individual rights and political rights are being violated."

Myanmar rights activist Thet Swe Win wears a flower in his hair in this handout picture on the birthday of detained leader Aung San Suu Kyi at an undisclosed location in Myanmar, on June 19, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

Myanmar Miss Universe beauty queen Thuzar Wint Lwin wore red flowers in her hair and wrote: "May our leader be healthy."

In Yangon’s north, protesters put up posters on power lines wishing Suu Kyi a happy birthday and expressing solidarity.  "Happy Birthday Mother Suu. We are right behind you," the signs read. 

Some marched with black umbrellas and banners that read "freedom from fear" alongside pictures of Suu Kyi. 

In the border region of Karen state, some rebel soldiers were photographed holding their guns and yellow, white and purple posies, as well as single flowers tucked behind their ears. 

Demonstrators in the south-eastern city of Dawei made a giant pink birthday cake and brought it to their street protest.

A junta spokesman did not answer calls to seek comment.

Ms Suu Kyi is among nearly 5,000 people currently detained by the junta for opposing the coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners activist group. It also says 870 people have been killed - a figure challenged by the junta.

The army overthrew Ms Suu Kyi after her administration dismissed its allegations of fraud over her party's landslide election victory last November. International monitors had said the vote was fair.

She now faces charges from illegally possessing walkie-talkie radios and breaking coronavirus protocols to inciting discontent, corruption and breaking the Official Secrets Act - which can carry a 14-year jail term.

Ms Suu Kyi's lawyers say the charges are absurd and her supporters say they are aimed at eliminating her from politics.

The next hearing is set for Monday.

Ms Suu Kyi won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, but her standing in Western countries collapsed in 2017 over her defence of the army after the exodus of 700,000 minority Rohingya Muslims in the face of an offensive.

But the episode did nothing to dent her popularity in Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist country.

The General Assembly resolution calling for a halt of arms supplies to Myanmar was adopted with the support of 119 countries. Belarus was the only country to oppose it, while 36 abstained, including China and Russia.

"The risk of a large-scale civil war is real," UN special envoy on Myanmar Christine Schraner Burgener told the General Assembly after the vote. "Time is of the essence. The opportunity to reverse the military takeover is narrowing."