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Auckland dinner for Burmese leader’s birthday

Auckland dinner for Burmese leader’s birthday

Fifteen years after she was denied the right to take her place as the democratically elected leader of Burma, Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi will mark her 60th birthday on Sunday (19 June), still under house arrest.

About 200 people in Auckland will join other supporters around the world to mark the occasion – locally with a fundraising dinner at Auckland University’s Waipapa Marae on Sunday night.

Some of New Zealand’s 300 refugees from Burma will provide food, music and dances by the Burman, Karen and Mon ethnic groups. Speakers will include former New Zealand Ambassador Rene Wilson, Green MP Keith Locke, NZ Burma Support Group founder Fiona Thompson and the president of the United Democratic Burmese Community (NZ), Aung Htay Nyan.

Aumg San Suu Kyi, born in Rangoon on 19 June 1945, is the daughter of Burma’s independence leader, Aung San, who was assassinated in July 1947 just a few months before the country finally became independent from Britain.

She went to Britain in the 1960s to study at Oxford University, where she met her husband Michael Aris, a scholar of Tibetan culture. They had two sons, Alexander and Kim.

She returned to Burma in 1988 to care for her dying mother and found herself caught up in the democratic movement opposing the military junta led by General Ne Win, who had seized power in 1962. Student protests and anti-government riots in 1988 forced Ne Win’s resignation, but hundreds of people died as the army brutally fired at demonstrators in Rangoon.

Aung San Suu Kyi became leader of the National League for Democracy and was placed under house arrest in July 1989. She was offered freedom if she would leave the country, but refused.

In 1990 the regime allowed elections for the first time since 1960. Aung San Suu Kyi was banned from taking part and kept under house arrest, but the NLD won 60% of the vote. However, the military ruled that the NLD was “not ready to rule” and arrested its other leaders.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in 1995, but was arrested again in 2000 and again in 2003, when she was on a speaking tour in northern Burma. Some of the supporters who were with her on the tour were killed and Aung San Suu Kyi herself required hospital treatment.

Heavily influenced by Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi has argued consistently for non-violent action. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Her husband, Michael Aris, was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 1997 but was denied a visa to join her in Burma, and the junta made it clear that Aung San Suu Kyi herself would be barred from re-entering the country if she joined him in Britain. She refused to leave, and never saw him again. He died in 1999.

Proceeds from the Auckland dinner will go to the Burma Relief Centre in Thailand, which sends “barefoot doctors” into Burma to help people who have been displaced from their villages by the military.

The dinner starts at 7pm. Tickets are $35 and are available from Fiona Thompson, 09 828 4855.

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