Myanmar's Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on Tuesday began an emotional visit to Britain, where she left her family 24 years ago and took up her famous struggle against the military dictatorship in her homeland. By Mohammed Abbas
The pro-democracy campaigner spent much of the next two decades under house arrest in Myanmar, costing her time with her two sons and the chance to be with her husband, Michael Aris, before he died of cancer in 1999.
Suu Kyi, celebrating her 67th birthday, received a standing ovation as she addressed a packed auditorium at the London School of Economics university at the beginning of her visit to Britain, the latest leg of a 17-day European tour.
“It’s all of you and people like you that have given me the strength to continue,” she said, to whoops and cheers from the audience.
“And I suppose I do have a stubborn streak in me.”
Suu Kyi spoke about the importance of the rule of law in Myanmar, which was under military control for 49 years but in recent months has surprised the world with a slew of democratic reforms including parliamentary polls.
“The reason why I’ve emphasised the rule of law so much in my political work, is because this is what we all need if we are to really proceed towards democracy,” said the Oxford graduate, who was sworn into Myanmar’s parliament last month.
“Unless people see that justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform,” she added, wearing a lilac scarf and sporting a white flower in her hair.
In contrast to her recent comments urging “healthy scepticism” of the Myanmar government’s commitment to reforms, Suu Kyi said she was confident she could work with the country’s military rulers to amend the constitution.
“Do we think it can be amended? Yes, we think so, because we think that it’s possible to work together with the military to make them understand why we think that this constitution will not move us (the country) in a positive direction,” she said.
At end of her appearance the 1,000-strong audience sang “Happy Birthday” to her.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, assassinated hero of Myanmar’s struggle for independence from British rule, a heritage that propelled her into politics after returning to Myanmar in 1988 to care for her ailing mother.
The military junta seized power in 1988 as troops crushed pro-democracy protests. Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party won a 1990 general election, but the generals refused to step down.
Over two decades she spent 15 years under house arrest and declined offers allowing her to leave the country due to fears she would not be allowed back.
In 2010, the military gave way to a quasi-civilian government stacked with former generals, but President Thein Sein has in the past year startled many by freeing political prisoners, easing censorship and holding talks with ethnic rebels.
The move has earned impoverished Myanmar the suspension of most European sanctions and paved the way for Suu Kyi’s trip abroad. She has been feted by politicians and pop stars and cheered by crowds of thousands in Ireland, Switzerland and Norway, where she finally received the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991.
She was expected to visit Oxford later on Tuesday and on Wednesday receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford University. On Thursday she will address both houses of Britain’s parliament, a rare honour.
Suu Kyi was sworn into Myanmar’s parliament last month after her NLD party dominated April by-elections, threatening the state’s military hegemony ahead of parliamentary polls in 2015.
Still, she has warned against “reckless optimism” and drawn attention to the plight of remaining political prisoners and has urged the West to remain vigilant for signs of any reversals by the country’s leadership.
Last week she warned companies jostling to tap Myanmar’s oil and gas resources not to do business with her country’s state-owned oil and gas company until it improves its transparency and accountability.
At the end of her LSE speech, the university presented Suu Kyi with a framed picture of her father, who was killed when she was just two years old. DM
Photo: People look on as Myanmar’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks on stage after she received the Freedom of the City of Dublin during a ceremony in Dublin, Ireland June 18, 2012. REUTERS/David Moir
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