Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi predicted Saturday that the military regime's crackdown on her supporters will backfire, fueling the cause of democracy.
"The arrests have very much helped our cause, but I'm afraid it has not been easy for those that have been arrested," she said in an interview with The Associated Press.The government arrested more democracy activists Saturday, bringing the total number of those detained to 256 - nearly all of them activists who were expected to attend a meeting Sunday of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.
The National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma - a self-appointed exile government based in the Burmese jungle - said one detainee has died in custody.
The group identified him as Mya Hlaing, a National League for Democracy member elected to parliament in 1990. The report, received by fax in Bangkok, could not be immediately confirmed.
The government permitted Suu Kyi to deliver her weekly speech at the gates of her compound Saturday, and she told the crowd of 5,000 - more than twice the usual number - that the party meeting would proceed.
"Our meeting today is far bigger than usual in spite of the inclement weather," said Suu Kyi, who won the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma.
"This is an indication that the people of Burma approve of what we are doing and support fully our intentions to hold the conference tomorrow."
The meeting would be the first full party conference for the National League for Democracy since it won national elections in July 1990. It would also be the first time that any major opposition meeting has taken place since Suu Kyi was released last July after six years of house arrest.
The government has not said it whether it will allow the meeting to take place, but Suu Kyi's supporters continued with preparations. In a bamboo and thatch hall erected on her front lawn, dozens of volunteers arranged chairs and hung the red and gold banners with the party symbol, a fighting peacock.
Suu Kyi said the government had rounded up 256 party supporters, including 232 representatives elected during the 1990 general election. After her party won 392 of 485 contested seats, the military refused to hand over power.
In her interview, Suu Kyi said she believes the crackdown has exposed the repressive nature of the regime.
"There is no despondency. We see this as a time for action, a time for a lot of intelligent thinking. And it's been a bit exhausting," she said.
She described the government crackdown as an overreaction which "very much illustrates the heavy hand with which this regime is ruling Burma."
The White House condemned the arrests Saturday, calling on Burma's military regime to release all detainees immediately.