Huge crowds greet Suu Kyi at party headquarters
Myanmar's newly released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by thousands of exuberant supporters at her party headquarters on Sunday as she arrived to deliver a rare political address.world Updated: Nov 14, 2010 11:05 IST
Myanmar's newly released pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi was greeted by thousands of exuberant supporters at her party headquarters on Sunday as she arrived to deliver a rare political address.
The daughter of Myanmar's independence hero carries a weight of expectation among her followers for a better future for the nation after almost half a century of military dictatorship.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was freed on Saturday after spending most of the last two decades locked up, in a move greeted with jubilation by her supporters and welcomed by rights groups and governments around the world.
The 65-year-old dissident briefly struggled to get out of her car amid a huge crowd before entering the offices of her National League for Democracy as the gates closed behind her.
She was due to meet with diplomats and then give a rare political address that is being eagerly awaited for clues on what she plans to do with her freedom following an election widely criticised by the West as a sham.
Thousands of her supporters roared with approval on Saturday as Suu Kyi appeared outside her home after the end of her latest seven-year stretch of detention.
"We must work together in unison," she told the crowd waiting outside the crumbling lakeside mansion where she had been held, suggesting she plans to keep up her long struggle against the military regime.
"I'm glad that you are welcoming me and supporting me. I want to say that there will be a time to come out. Do not stay quiet when that time comes," she added.
Many in the impoverished nation see the democracy icon as their best chance for freedom.
But it remains to be seen whether the most famous dissident in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, can live up to her long-suffering compatriots' high expectations.
She has said little about her plans and attention is focused on whether she can reunite the divided opposition after an election widely criticised by the West as a sham to prolong military rule behind a facade of democracy.
"Our country must become democratic. Our future depends on Aung San Suu Kyi," said NLD youth leader Nyi Min. "She gives us hope and courage. Only she can free us from this anarchist regime."
World leaders, too, will be poring over the softly spoken Suu Kyi's words to get an indication of her political intentions.
Many countries were quick to welcome her release, with US President Barack Obama hailing her as "a hero of mine".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Suu Kyi as "an inspiration" to the world, but said the junta must release all political prisoners.
Setting her free is a huge gamble for Myanmar's generals, and observers see it as an attempt to tame criticism of a controversial election last Sunday, the country's first in 20 years.
Some had feared that the junta, whose proxies claimed overwhelming victory in the vote, would continue to put restrictions on the freedom of its number one enemy.
But the junta did not impose any restrictions on her release, according to a senior government official as well as her lawyer Nyan Win.
"There was no condition on her release. She is completely free," Nyan Win said. "She is very glad and happy."
Western nations and pro-democracy activists have blasted the November 7 poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.
The NLD boycotted the vote, a decision that deeply split the opposition.
Suu Kyi had been under house arrest since 2003 - just one of several stretches of detention at the hands of the ruling generals.
Her sentence was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, sparking international condemnation and keeping her off the scene for last Sunday's vote.
The pro-democracy leader swept her party to victory in a 1990 election, but it was never allowed to take power.
Suu Kyi's struggle for her country has come at a high personal cost: her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the junta refused him a visa to see his wife.
She has not seen her two sons for about a decade and has never met her grandchildren.
First Published: Nov 14, 2010 11:00 IST