Myanmar junta to pardon over 1,600 prisoners

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Myanmar junta to pardon over 1,600 prisoners

Myanmar's junta will release over 1,600 prisoners from jails across the country to mark the Buddhist New Year, it said, without specifying whether those being pardoned were protesters or criminals.

The South-East Asian country has been in turmoil since the military ouster of Aung San Suu Kyi's government last year, which sparked a huge protest and a deadly crackdown.

Some 1,619 prisoners, including 42 foreigners, were pardoned and will be released to mark the new year, according to an announcement by state TV on Sunday morning. It is not known whether anti-junta protesters or journalists who have been jailed for covering the coup will be among those freed.

More than 1,500 people have been killed and 11,000 arrested by the military since the coup took place, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, an activist group.

There was no mention of the Australian academic Sean Turnell, a former adviser to Ms Suu Kyi who was arrested shortly after the coup.

He is currently on trial for allegedly breaching the official secrets act, which has a maximum jail sentence of 14 years.

State television said he had access to secret state financial information and tried to escape the country, but he hasn't been made public.

Myanmar usually grants an annual amnesty to thousands of prisoners to mark its traditional Buddhist New Year holiday, which in previous years has been joyous affairs with city-wide water fights.

With the military continuing its bloody crackdown on dissent this year, the streets in many major cities have been silent as people protest junta rule.