Yangon, Myanmar: Myanmar democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi marked her 65th birthday Saturday locked in her dilapidated lakeside compound as calls for her freedom erupted around the world.
President Barack Obama and U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon demanded Suu Kyi`s release in statements echoed at rallies and prayer vigils across the globe. Supporters at home threw a birthday party at the suburban Yangon home of a fellow opposition member. It was attended by more than 300 people but not the guest of honor.
Holding candles and yellow roses, they lit a birthday cake with 65 candles and released 65 doves into the sky while chanting, "Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi." Plainclothes security watched and videotaped the event.
Suu Kyi has now spent 15 birthdays in detention over the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest. She is the world`s only imprisoned Nobel Peace Prize winner.
"It is very sad that she cannot celebrate her birthday in freedom," said her lawyer Nyan Win. Confined to her home, Suu Kyi planned to celebrate by providing a lunch of chicken curry and an Indian-style flat bread for the three dozen construction workers helping to renovate her crumbling two-story mansion, Nyan Win said.
The tight security surrounding Suu Kyi`s home allowed the delivery of a birthday cake and a bouquet of roses, orchids and lilies sent by political supporters. Members of her National League for Democracy party are planting 20,000 trees around the country, mostly on the grounds of Buddhist monasteries, to mark the occasion.
A confidante, Win Tin, made an impassioned plea for Suu Kyi`s release by repeating one of her phrases.
"To the international community I want to reiterate her words: `Please use your liberty to promote ours,`" said Win Tin, who co-founded the party with Suu Kyi and himself spent nearly 20 years jailed as a political prisoner.
Global condemnation over her imprisonment has failed to change the junta`s harsh attacks on all dissent or soften their stance on Suu Kyi, whose steely grace, charisma and popularity have remained in tact despite her long confinement.
Obama praised Suu Kyi`s "determination, courage and personal sacrifice in working for human rights and democratic change in Burma inspire all of us who stand for freedom and justice."
"I once again call on the Burmese government to release Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners," Obama said in a statement. The UN chief said he remains "deeply concerned" that Suu Kyi is still under house arrest.
"I have been persistently, consistently demanding that all the political prisoners including Daw Aung San Suu Kyi should be released without condition as soon as possible so that they would be able to participate in the political process," Ban said. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.
Ahead of historic elections planned for later this year, Suu Kyi remains the biggest threat to the ruling junta. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been dominated by military rule since 1962.
The upcoming elections will be the first in two decades. Suu Kyi`s party overwhelmingly won the last election in 1990, but was never allowed to take power. Under new election laws, Suu Kyi and other political prisoners — estimated at more than 2,000 — are effectively barred from taking part in the polls. The NLD has called the laws unfair and undemocratic and is boycotting the polls, which critics have dismissed as a sham designed to cement military rule. The party was disbanded after refusing to register for the elections by a May 6 deadline.
Suu Kyi`s detention was extended by 18 months in August 2009 when she was convicted of violating the terms of her house arrest by briefly harboring an American intruder. The sentence will keep her locked away during the elections.
Events to mark Suu Kyi`s birthday were held in Sydney, Manila, Jakarta, Kuala Lumpur and Bangkok. Rallies, candlelight vigils, concerts and Buddhist prayer ceremonies were planned later Saturday in Dublin, various cities in Britain, Toronto, New York, Washington and elsewhere.
"She is an inspiration to people throughout the world," said Julie Bishop, deputy leader of Australia`s main opposition party who gathered with prominent female politicians in Sydney to mark the birthday and launch a group that aims to raise awareness of Suu Kyi`s plight.
"We must never rest in sending the message that the people of Burma deserve freedom and democracy."