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Suu Kyi lawyers 'optimistic' over Burmese leader's appeal

Lawyers for Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said they have a solid legal argument for their appeal today against her conviction that extended her house arrest and drew global outrage.

Ms Suu Kyi and reporters were barred from attending the appeal at the Yangon Divisional Court, which was expected to last one day, with a verdict delivered at a later date.

Separately, country's junta hastily granted amnesty to thousands of other prisoners expected to be freed today. A mass release had been anticipated for months but the timing appeared to be partially aimed at distracting attention from Ms Suu Kyi's hearing.

The 64-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner was convicted on August 11 for breaking the terms of her house arrest when an American intruder stayed at her home. A three-year sentence was commuted to 18 months of house arrest by the junta chief, Senior General Than Shwe.

Two of Ms Suu Kyi's live-in companions received the same sentence.

"We are optimistic that Daw Suu and her two companions will be released because we based our appeal on sound legal points," lawyer Nyan Win said before the hearing started. "Daw" is a term of respect in Burma.

Lawyers say the main point of Ms Suu Kyi's appeal is that the law authorities used against her is invalid because it applies to a constitution abolished two decades ago.

Ms Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years, mostly under house arrest.

Her three-month trial and subsequent conviction sparked global outrage and revived long-standing calls for the release of the country's estimated 2,200 political prisoners, of which she is the most famous.

Today is the 21st anniversary of the 1988 seizure of power by the current junta to quash vast pro-democracy demonstrations.

Ms Suu Kyi's sentence ensures she cannot participate in elections. Her party swept the last elections in 1990 but the results were never honoured by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

Lawyers say their appeal will argue that the lower court misinterpreted Ms Suu Kyi's previous restriction order which says she cannot communicate with the outside world by phone or mail - but the order should not be applied in the case of the American's uninvited entry to her home.

The appeal will also argue that judges and police officers illegally entered Ms Suu Kyi's home when they brought American John Yettaw back to re-enact his crime while Ms Suu Kyi was being detained in prison.

Yettaw was sentenced to seven years in prison but was released on humanitarian grounds and deported on August 16.

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