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Suu Kyi gives flowers and support to HIV patients

Myanmar's newly freed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited a group of HIV sufferers on Wednesday and offered them the flowers she was given to celebrate her release from years of house arrest.

world Updated: Nov 17, 2010 19:17 IST

Myanmar's newly freed democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi visited a group of HIV sufferers on Wednesday and offered them the flowers she was given to celebrate her release from years of house arrest.

The Nobel Peace Laureate told a 500-strong gathering in eastern Yangon, including about 100 patients, that they should keep a "strong spirit", as she called for greater financial support to tackle the virus.

"What we can do now is try to get as much medicine as we can for the patients here," said Suu Kyi, the popular 65-year-old opposition leader who was released from more than seven years of detention on Saturday.

"All patients here should keep a strong spirit. Your spirit is the main thing. There are many people to take care of you. Keep in your mind that there are many people who value you," she told the crowd.

"People have value as human beings whatever happens, or whatever disease happens to you."

Suu Kyi, who had been locked up for 15 of the past 21 years, was released less than a week after a widely criticised poll that consolidated the military regime's decades-long grip on power, but was dismissed by many as a sham.

HIV/AIDS is one of the leading health issues afflicting Myanmar, where the junta spends just 0.5 percent of gross domestic product on health, according to a United Nations report earlier this year.

And despite being one of the least developed countries, overseas development aid trickling into Myanmar is among the lowest in the world.

"We need a lot of money to get antiretroviral drugs," Suu Kyi told reporters at the gathering. "We need money for food. We need money for more housing."

The comments followed her first political speech in years on Sunday, in which she appealed to a sea of jubilant supporters for unity, and she has since begun the daunting task of rebuilding the weakened opposition movement.