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Thousands greet Suu Kyi on campaign trail in Myanmar

world Updated: Feb 08, 2012 00:38 IST

The Nobel peace laureate travelled for the first time in two decades to the Irrawaddy delta, Burma's rice bowl and the region most devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.

Crowds lined the roads to shout support to Aung San Suu Kyi along her four-hour drive south from Rangoon to Pathein, the regional capital. More than 10,000 people packed into a sports stadium under a sweltering sun to hear her speak.

One giant banner strung through the stands hailed Aung San Suu Kyi, as Mother Democracy. Aung San Suu Kyi's return to politics is another test of the reforms of the new nominally civilian government that took power last year after decades of military control. Her latest trip came a day after the election commission formally accepted her candidacy for an April Parliamentary byelection.

Aung San Suu Kyi last visited the Irrawaddy region during a campaign tour in 1989, when soldiers in the town of Danuphyu briefly pointed their rifles at her. It was one of several dramatic confrontations with the ruling military junta before the 1990 elections, which Aung San Suu Kyi's party won but the junta refused to recognise.

"I remember the last time I was here 20 years ago," Aung San Suu Kyi told the ecstatic crowd, where some fainted under the hot sun. "I see the same kind of support."

Outlining her party's objectives for entering Parliament, Aung San Suu Kyi said the National League for Democracy would seek to end ethnic conflicts and "try to achieve internal peace" and the rule of law. She called on supporters to ensure that April elections were free and fair. "Please don't forget to vote for the NLD!" Aung San Suu Kyi told the crowd.

"Those who are standing in the front rows please sit down so other people can see," Aung San Suu Kyi said at one point, and thousands of people sat down in unison.

The upcoming byelection is being held to fill 48 Parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet or other posts.