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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi defiant in first comments since coup

(Myanmar’s civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi has been detained since a Feb 1 coup and faces a litany of charges from the ruling junta. Photo: AFP)

YANGON, (AFP):- Detained Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Monday voiced defiance in her first public comments since being held in a coup, vowing her ousted political party would “exist as long as the people exist.”

Myanmar has been in uproar since the Feb 1 putsch, with near-daily protests and a nationwide civil disobedience movement. More than 800 people have been killed by the military, according to a local monitoring group.

In her first in-person court appearance, Suu Kyi told her lawyer her National League for Democracy would “exist as long as the people exist,” even as the junta threatens to dissolve the party — which swept elections in 2020 — over alleged voter fraud.

The Nobel laureate — who had not been seen in public since the coup — sounded “healthy and fully confident” during the 30-minute meeting, her lawyer Min Min Soe told AFP.

“She wishes her people to stay healthy as well as affirmed the NLD will exist as long as people exist because it was founded for people,” she added.

Suu Kyi has been hit with a string of criminal charges including flouting coronavirus restrictions during last year’s election campaign and possessing unlicensed walkie-talkies.

There was a heavy security presence in the capital Naypyidaw, an AFP correspondent said, with the road to the specially-constructed courthouse blocked off by police trucks.

Suu Kyi had faced weeks of delays to her legal case and her lawyers had struggled to gain access to their client.

The next hearing was set for June 7, Min Min Soe said, adding she had also met with former president Win Myint, who was ousted and detained along with Suu Kyi.

– ‘Everything she can’ –

Junta leader Min Aung Hlaing gave a two-hour interview to Hong Kong’s Phoenix Television last week, with the full programme yet to air, though portions have been released.

Asked about Suu Kyi’s political achievements, the military leader said: “In short, she has done everything she can.”

A group of ousted lawmakers — many of them previously part of the NLD — have formed a shadow “National Unity Government” in an attempt to undermine the junta.

The military has declared the group would be classified as “terrorists”.

In a separate interview excerpt, Min Aung Hlaing disputed the death toll from anti-coup protests and said the junta was not ready to adopt a consensus brokered by the Association of Southeast Asian Nations to halt violence.

The continuing violence has pushed some in the anti-junta movement to form a so-called “People’s Defence Force” (PDF) in their own townships — made up of civilians who fight back against security forces with homemade weapons.

Sunday saw heavy fighting between junta forces and the Karenni National Progressive Party — an ethnic armed group with a stronghold in Kayah state on Myanmar’s eastern fringe.

The military used tanks, mortars and helicopters in fighting which continued into Sunday night, according to a senior KNPP leader.

Four people taking refuge in a church were killed in army shelling, according to media and a spokesperson for a local group coordinating evacuations from the area.

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