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Myanmar's Suu Kyi defends herself in court

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told a court that although she gave "temporary shelter" to an uninvited American earlier this month, she had not violated her house arrest.
Thailand Myanmar Opposition Leader
Supporters of Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi shout slogans as they gather outside the Russian embassy in Bangkok, Thailand, on Sunday.David Longstreath / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi told a court Tuesday that although she gave "temporary shelter" to an uninvited American earlier this month, she had not violated her house arrest and was merely trying to shield the man and her security guards from punishment.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner says she was only trying to protect the American intruder and her security guards from punishment.

Testifying for the first time in the case, Suu Kyi appeared frail and pale but managed an occasional smile. A judge questioned her for less than half an hour about John W. Yettaw, who swam uninvited to her lakeside house.

The 53-year-old man swam to her lakeside home and then said he was too ill to leave right away. The Missouri man has said he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and that he came to warn her.

The charge against 63-year-old Suu Kyi is widely considered a pretext to keep her detained ahead of elections the military government has planned for next year. Her house arrest was supposed to expire this week. Now, she faces a possible prison term of up to five years. She pleaded not guilty Friday.

The case has brought worldwide outrage and led many countries in the West to say they are considering ramping up sanctions against the ruling junta. She is not expected to testify again, although she will continue to be present for the rest of the trial.

Myanmar's courts operate under the influence of the military and almost always deal harshly with political dissidents.

Terms to expire
Suu Kyi's latest round of house arrest — extended every year since 2003 — was supposed to expire this week, and a top police official told diplomats Tuesday that the government had considered releasing her on "humanitarian grounds."

But the junta reversed that decision when the "unexpected incident of the intrusion of the American happened," Brig. Gen. Myint Thein said. The regime's critics, however, have assumed that the junta was looking for a pretext to keep her locked up.

She has spent more than 13 of the past 19 years in detention without trial, most at her dilapidated Yangon home.

Reporters and diplomats, including a reporter for The Associated Press, were allowed into the courtroom for Tuesday's session, the second time during the trial that such rare access has been granted.

"Thank you for your concern and support. It is always good to see people from the outside world," she told reporters and diplomats before being escorted out of the court by four policewomen.

Suu Kyi's side does not contest the facts of the case: She acknowledges that she allowed Yettaw, 53, to stay after he entered her house uninvited and then subsequently said he was too ill to leave immediately.

Kyi testifies on man's encounter
In testimony and a written statement to the court, she has also said she did not alert authorities to his presence because she feared getting him and the security personnel guarding her house in trouble, according to her lawyers.

Suu Kyi told the judge Tuesday that she did not immediately know when Yettaw — who was also in the courtroom — entered her house, but that at 5 a.m., one of her women companions informed her "that a man had arrived."

When asked if she reported his presence to the authorities, Suu Kyi said, "No, I did not." She said she spoke to Yettaw and gave him "temporary shelter," and he left just before midnight May 5.

Two women assistants who live with her, and Yettaw, also have pleaded not guilty to the same charge.

When he pleaded not guilty, Yettaw, from Falcon, Missouri, explained he had a dream that Suu Kyi would be assassinated and he came to warn her that her life was in danger.

"Given her ordeal, she is in reasonably good shape," said British Ambassador Mark Canning, who met with Suu Kyi last week.

'Road map to democracy'
Suu Kyi rose to prominence as a leader of the 1988 democracy uprising, which was brutally suppressed. Her father was the greatly revered Aung San, who led the independence struggle against Great Britain but was assassinated in 1947.

Her party won general elections in 1990 but the military, which has ruled the country since 1962, never accepted the results.

The government has scheduled elections next year as the culmination of a "road map to democracy," which has been criticized as a fig leaf for continued military rule.

Suu Kyi's trial comes weeks after the European Union announced it was stepping up humanitarian aid to the impoverished country, also known as Burma, and the United States said it was reviewing its policy — including speculation it might soften sanctions the regime says have crippled its economy.

But now the EU is talking of introducing tougher sanctions, and President Barack Obama's administration has announced it will continue its economic penalties.

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