Hundreds of political prisoners freed in Myanmar

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Nay Pyi Taw, April 8 (IANS) The newly-installed democratic government in Myanmar on Friday freed hundreds of people as part of a nationwide release of prisoners ahead of Thingyan, the Burmese New Year Water Festival.

Families and activists gathered outside the gates of Insein Prison, near Yangon, to greet those who were freed on Friday, Efe news agency reported.

As the released detainees left the prison gates, they were welcomed with hugs, tears and flowers.

Friday’s release of some 4,000 prisoners includes about 450 political prisoners, State Counsellor and National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi said in a statement on Thursday.

According to the Democratic Voice of Burma broadcaster, about 100 prisoners left Insein Prison on Friday, another 30 were released in Mandalay; the same number in Taungoo; 29 in Sittwe; and 17 more in Tharrawaddy.

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However, it was not clear how many of those released were political prisoners.

Each year, before Thingyan — which starts next week and runs for several days — authorities release prisoners, including those whose sentences are due to finish during the holiday period.

Among those released on Friday was 61-year-old activist Thet Wai, who was detained for an illegal solo protest, and was warmly greeted outside the prison by activists who gave him flowers. Wai was due to be released on April 19.

Speaking to his supporters, Wai demanded the new government press ahead with releasing all political prisoners.

In Suu Kyi’s statement on Thursday evening, she explained the government puts a high priority on releasing all political prisoners and detained activists “as soon as possible,” the Irrawaddy news site reported.

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Myanmar has jailed about 100 dissidents, while around 400 activists are awaiting or are in the midst of a trial, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

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