Image: Burmese pro-democracy activists.
Dai Kurokawa  /  EPA
Burmese pro-democracy activists with a portrait of their leader Aung San Suu Kyi stand in front of Japan's Forein Ministry in Tokyo on Friday, demanding that the Japanese government take stronger action against Myanmar's military regime.
updated 10/26/2007 10:15:42 AM ET 2007-10-26T14:15:42

At least 70 people detained by the military government following protests in Myanmar — including 50 members of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's party — have been released, a party spokesman said Friday.

But hundreds of armed riot police moved into position in Yangon, a sudden show of force after several weeks of relative quiet.

The detainees were released Thursday from the infamous Insein Prison in Yangon, said Nyan Win, the National League for Democracy party spokesman, who said at least 250 members of the party were still being held.

The government has said it detained about 3,000 suspected dissidents after last month's pro-democracy demonstrations, but that most were released. There are many reports they have been mistreated in custody.

Pressure has been mounting on the junta since the crackdown to free the detainees. The U.N. Security Council issued its first-ever statement on Myanmar earlier this month, condemning the crackdown and calling for the release of political prisoners.

Riot police take positions
Meanwhile, hundreds of riot police, armed with assault rifles and tear gas, moved into position at sites in the country's largest city, apparently trying to forestall any protests. It was the one-month anniversary of a key day in the anti-regime uprising by Buddhist monks, activists and ordinary citizens angry at the country's entrenched junta.

Japan Myanmar
Katsumi Kasahara  /  AP
A protester against Myanmar's military junta holds a portrait of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and chants slogans against Myanmar's military government in front of Japan's Foreign Ministry in Tokyo, on Friday.
Security was especially tight at the eastern gate of the famed Shwedagon pagoda where monks were beaten as police broke up a protest on Sept. 26. Barbed wire was erected around the area while police and pro-junta thugs also took up positions near the Sule Pagoda in the heart of the city and other sites of earlier protests.

Friday also marked the end of the Lent period, an important Buddhist holiday when monks can leave their monasteries to travel after several months of monsoon season retreats.

There were no immediate signs that any public protests would take place, but thousands of pilgrims thronged to the Shwedagon and other pagodas.

A Myanmar reporter who tried to take a photo of the pilgrims climbing up the eastern gate of the Shwedagon was immediately surrounded by nearly a dozen riot police and a police officer confiscated the flash card from the camera.

Suu Kyi meets with official
On Thursday, Suu Kyi met with a newly appointed Myanmar government official, part of a U.N.-brokered attempt to nudge her and the military junta toward reconciliation.

It was the first known meeting between Suu Kyi — under house arrest for 12 of the last 18 years — and "minister for relations" retired major general Aung Kyi, who was appointed to the post on Oct. 8 to hold talks with her.

"I hope this is the beginning of the (reconciliation) process," said Nyan Win, spokesman for Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy Friday.

Ibrahim Gambari, the U.N. envoy trying to broker a compromise, said the meeting was a good beginning.

"But it's only the first step, so this should lead to early resumption of talks that will lead to tangible results," Gambari told reporters in Japan.

But some residents and Western diplomats remained skeptical, noting that such earlier meetings produced nothing and seemed merely aimed at easing international pressure on the junta.

"She's very conscious of the difficulties her people are experiencing," Gambari told Japan's public broadcaster NHK, referring to Suu Kyi. "Her concern is to put an end to the violence and that prisoners are released."

Suu Kyi was driven Thursday a few minutes from her home to a government guest house, state-run television reported. Television images showed Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi seated in high-backed chairs having a discussion, a scene that suggested two dignitaries in a meeting rather than someone under house arrest.

A protest movement which began Aug. 19 over the government raising fuel prices mushroomed over several weeks into a broad-based anti-government movement pressing for democracy.

Tens of thousands demonstrated — the largest protests in nearly two decades of brutal military rule. Troops quelled mass protests with gunfire. The government said 10 people were killed, but dissident groups put the death toll at up to 200 and say 6,000 people were detained, including thousands of monks.

Copyright 2007 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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