Myanmar frees more prisoners

Myanmar frees more prisoners

Reclusive state takes major step towards opening up after 50 years

Myanmar freed at least 200 political prisoners on Friday in an amnesty that could embolden the opposition and put pressure on the West to lift sanctions as one of the world’s most reclusive states opens up after half a century of authoritarian rule.

Among those freed are long-persecuted democrats and ethnic leaders whose proven ability to organise and inspire could heap pressure on President Thein Sein to accelerate nascent reforms.

The United States and Europe have said freeing political prisoners is crucial to even considering lifting the economic sanctions that have isolated the former British colony, also known as Burma, and pushed it closer to China during five decades of often-brutal military rule that ended last March.

“The release of all political prisoners is a longstanding demand of the international community and I warmly welcome these releases as a further demonstration of the Burmese government’s commitment to reform,” British Foreign Secretary William Hague said in a statement.

It was unclear exactly how many political detainees were among the 651 inmates covered by the amnesty.

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