Myanmar's Suu Kyi turns 66 in freedom

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi celebrated her 66th birthday on Sunday, her first as a free woman for almost a decade.

She was released from seven years of house arrest in November, having spent much of the past two decades as a prisoner in her own home, with the military regime never accepting her landslide election win in 1990.

In previous years, Suu Kyi's supporters across the globe used her anniversary to reiterate calls for her release.

For her first free birthday in nine years the Nobel Peace Laureate went to Yangon airport to meet the younger of her two sons, British national Kim Aris, who travelled to be with his mother for the occasion.

"I'm very glad," she told reporters after being greeted by Aris with a kiss. She also thanked onlookers who wished her a happy birthday.

Aris, 33, was reunited with his mother on a visit to Yangon in November soon after her release, after a decade of separation.

They were due to hold a family gathering at her lakeside home before giving alms to Buddhist monks and then celebrating at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Party members said they would release doves, sparrows and balloons as in previous years - except that this time, their leader would be able to join them in the marking the occasion.

The first polls since 1990 were held on November 7, a few days before her release, but they were boycotted by the NLD, which said the rules were unfair.

Suu Kyi was excluded from the vote, won by the army's political proxies amid allegations of cheating and intimidation.

Her release and a new nominally-civilian government have sparked cautious hopes of gradual reform and debate over whether to soften Western economic sanctions against Myanmar.

Suu Kyi herself has said sanctions should remain in place until there is real democratic reform and the European Union, when it opted to maintain them in April, expressed hopes of "a greater civilian character of the government."

But the EU did lift for a year a visa ban and asset freeze on certain government members, including the foreign minister.

A high-level EU team is heading to Myanmar for exploratory talks with the new government, possibly arriving this weekend, a senior EU diplomat said on Friday. The NLD said Suu Kyi was due to meet them on Tuesday or Wednesday.