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Agence France-Presse
Naypyidaw, January 18, 2013
Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi on Friday defended her party's controversial decision to accept donations from businessmen close to the former junta for its education fund.

"Let them donate if they donate for good things," the opposition leader and lower house lawmaker told AFP in the capital Naypyidaw.

"I don't understand why we cannot accept it. If it's illegal money, we won't accept it. If it's legal money, why not as it's for a good cause?"

The decision by Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) to take money from "cronies" of the generals who ruled the country with an iron fist for decades has raised eyebrows given her long stand against the regime.

The donors at a party fundraising concert in December included Air Bagan, owned by prominent tycoon Tay Za, once described by the US Treasury as "a notorious regime henchman and arms dealer".

The NLD says it received a total of 500 million kyat ($580,000) from the event, making a profit of 320 million kyat after costs. It says the money will be used to help provide free education for 10,000 students.

"The money was donated for the education network," said party spokesman and NLD lawmaker Ohn Kyaing. "Who will suffer if we ask them (the cronies) not to donate? Children must continue their education," he said.

"People can criticise. That's democracy."

Suu Kyi, who spent much of the past two decades under house arrest, is focused on her new political role following her election last year to a parliament dominated by the military and its political allies.

Decades of military rule starved the NLD of funds, and its small ramshackle offices in downtown Yangon stand in stark contrast to the opulent headquarters of the ruling Union Solidarity and Democracy Party (USDP) in Naypyidaw.