MUMBAI - US PRESIDENT Barack Obama on Sunday called for the release of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, criticising the first elections in Myanmar for 20 years as neither free nor fair.

'We renew our calls for the authorities to free Aung San Suu Kyi and all other political prisoners immediately and unconditionally,' Mr Obama said in a statement released in the Indian city of Mumbai, which he is visiting. 'The United States will continue to implement a strategy of pressure and engagement in accordance with conditions on the ground in Burma and the actions of the Burmese authorities.'

Mr Obama's statement came after he publicly criticised Sunday's vote as 'anything but free and fair' at a town hall-style meeting with Indian students on the second day of his maiden visit to the country as US president. 'For too long the people of Burma have been denied the right to determine their own destiny,' he added, using the former name of the country.

Mr Obama's statement set out a list of demands for the Myanmar government, including an end to 'systematic violations of human rights' and a call to make those who abused those rights accountable for their actions. Pro-democracy campaigners and ethnic minority groups should be brought in to a 'long overdue dialogue' towards building a better, more representative and fair future for all the country's citizens, he added.

As it stood, 'the Nov 7 elections in Burma were neither free nor fair, and failed to meet any of the internationally accepted standards associated with legitimate elections,' the president said. 'The elections were based on a fundamentally flawed process and demonstrated the regime's continued preference for repression and restriction over inclusion and transparency.'
Mr Obama also criticised unfair electoral laws and said the election watchdog was biased in favour of the ruling regime, as opposition groups had been silenced or denied the vote, particularly in ethnic minority areas. 'Ultimately, elections cannot be credible when the regime rejects dialogue with opponents and represses the most basic freedoms of expression, speech, and assembly,' he added.

Free Suu Kyi: Obama