Image: National League for Democracy members in Yangon
AFP - Getty Images
Members of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition National League for Democracy protest in Yangon Tuesday before Myanmar's junta announced that the pro-democracy leader would remain under house arrest. About 20 demonstrators were later arrested.
msnbc.com staff and news service reports
updated 5/27/2008 11:46:07 AM ET 2008-05-27T15:46:07

Myanmar's military junta extended the detention of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi by one year on Tuesday, ignoring worldwide appeals to free the Nobel laureate who has been detained for more than 12 of the past 18 years, an official said.

Suu Kyi was personally informed of her continued imprisonment by officials from the Home Ministry who entered her home prior to the announcement, the official said.

Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest continuously since May 2003, has long been the symbol of the regime's brutality and the focus of a worldwide campaign that has lobbied for her release.

The extension was issued despite a Myanmar law that stipulates no one can be held longer than five years without being released or put on trial.

Protesters arrested
Earlier Tuesday, police hauled away about 20 opposition party members who were protesting Suu Kyi's detention. Witnesses saw riot police shove members of the National League for Democracy into a truck as they were marching from the party's headquarters to Suu Kyi's home.

Some of the detainees wore Suu Kyi T-shirts and others the party uniform, a peach-colored jacket, sarong and cone-shaped hat. Thrown into the truck, two members seated by windows unfurled a 2-foot poster of Suu Kyi before being ordered to roll it back up.

Suu Kyi's house arrest — which has been renewed annually — was believed to expire at midnight Tuesday, said Nyan Win, spokesman for her National League for Democracy party. With the regime saying nothing, there had been uncertainly about the exact expiration.

International condemnation
The decision comes at a delicate time for the junta.

It already is facing international condemnation for the way it failed the Cyclone Nargis relief effort, with more than half of the 2.4 million survivors of the storm still desperately needing food, clean water and shelter more than three weeks after the disaster.

But few expected Suu Kyi to be released, despite urging by leaders around the world.

President Bush said he was "deeply troubled" by the decision.

"The United States calls upon the regime to release all political prisoners in Burma and begin a genuine dialogue with Aung San Suu Kyi, the National League for Democracy, and other democratic and ethnic minority groups on a transition to democracy," he said in a statement released by the White House.

British Foreign Secretary David Milliband said he was "was saddened, if not surprised," by the decision.

Indonesian Foreign Minister Hassan Wirayuda called Tuesday for Suu Kyi's release, saying it would be a way of thanking the international community for its generosity after the cyclone, which killed at least 78,000 people and left another 56,000 missing.

About 20 plainclothes police officers stood guard outside Suu Kyi's lakeside house, while six truckloads of riot police were on guard near the National League for Democracy headquarters.

Standing in front of the dilapidated headquarters, about 30 supporters held a banner calling for her release and chanted: "Aung San Suu Kyi. Release her immediately."

A minute's silence was held outside the headquarters for those killed by Cyclone Nargis and for "democracy heroes."

Nearby, plainclothes police videotaped and photographed the participants.

1990 election victory ignored
About 200 members attended a ceremony inside the headquarters to mark the 18th anniversary of the party's landslide victory in 1990 elections, which the junta has never honored.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988 after brutally crushing a Suu Kyi-led uprising.

At Tuesday's ceremony, the party called for the immediate and unconditional release of Suu Kyi and party vice chairman Tin Oo, who the party said were being "detained at their homes because of their unrelenting efforts for the emergence of democracy and human rights in this state."

A statement also condemned and rejected the recent referendum that approved a constitution that would ensure the military a major role in future governments.

State media announced Monday that the constitution had been approved by more than 92 percent of eligible voters.

The regime, the statement said, had used "coercion, intimidation, deception, misinformation and undue influence, abuse of power to get the affirmative vote."

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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