Suu Kyi urges boycott of junta's rallies

Rangoon (Reuter) - The Burmese democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, told supporters yesterday they should refuse to go to government- staged rallies which denounce the democracy movement.

Ms Suu Kyi told a crowd of about 5,000 people gathered outside her home the rallies staged by the government over the past few weeks were not a real sign of support for the ruling military, and were more likely to hurt the government than help it.

"A mass rally should be one attended by people who want to be there, not those who are forced to go," she told the cheering crowd.

"If people are forced to support unwillingly they will be more and more dissatisfied. Far from benefiting the government, it will actually hurt them more," she said.

Ms Suu Kyi suggested that people called to attend the rallies should say: "We don't want to go."

Over the past week, the government has staged dozens of rallies across the country where hundreds of thousands of people shouted slogans and listened to speeches denouncing the democracy movement and "foreign interference".

Many Burmese say the rallies are not spontaneous demonstrations of support by the people, because they are forced by the military to attend, or to pay a fine.

Official media earlier reported one of the country's most powerful generals denouncing democracy activists as imperialist stooges and calling on people to crush "common enemies".

Lieutenant-General Khin Nyunt, head of military intelligence and Secretary One of the ruling State Law and Order Restoration Council (Slorc), said Burmese people will not tolerate the "stooges" who are trying to upset the nation's stability.

"Nationals cannot tolerate the egoism of neo-colonialists and their stooges who attempt to use the peaceful life of the people as a stepping stone," state-run newspapers reported Lt-Gen Khin Nyunt saying on Saturday.

"The people, who do not wish to face a nightmare like 1988, are holding mass rallies to support nation building of the State Law and Order Restoration Council and to denounce subversives."

The Slorc took power in 1988 after crushing pro-democracy uprisings in a conflict which left thousands dead or imprisoned.

The rallies and recent verbal and written attacks by the Slorc come on the heels of a controversial meeting of senior members of Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The NLD party defied intimidation by the Slorc and a police round-up of activists to hold the three-day meeting, which the Slorc said would cause anarchy.

NLD sources said police had released about half the league's 261 members arrested before the meeting, and the party expected most of the others to be set free soon. But Ms Suu Kyi said some had been charged and were being held in Insein Prison.

The government has not said anything about charging any of the people it detained nearly two weeks ago.