Monday, 15 November 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi begins long-awaited freedom

Nov 14 ( - Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi began her first day of freedom in seven years on Sunday with plans to meet her defunct political party after military rulers released her from house arrest.

The Nobel peace prize laureate spent the night in her family villa after greeting more than 1,000 supporters from over its iron gates, struggling to be heard over the roar of cheers.

Her latest house arrest term expired on Saturday and the military government gave no indication she would be freed until police withdrew from outside her home and removed barricades holding back supporters chanting for her release.

Suu Kyi could give Myanmar a strong pro-democracy voice days after a widely criticized election and could revive a debate over Western sanctions on the resource-rich country of 50 million people nestled strategically between China and India.

The 65-year-old daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San planned to meet at lunchtime with members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which scored a landslide election victory in 1990 which the junta ignored.

She was then due to address her supporters and hold a news conference.

The NLD, Myanmar's strongest democratic force, was dissolved by the junta in September for failing to register for an election it dismissed as unfair and unjust. The party has since been declared an "unlawful association" and will play no official role in the new political system of the former Burma.

It was not clear whether Suu Kyi would face any restrictions on her movements, although her lawyer last week said she would not agree to any conditions as part of her release.

Analysts say Suu Kyi is still seen as a threat by the military because of her huge popularity. Her release could take the shine away from the formation of a new government and her supporters are concerned she could be rearrested if she provokes the military, in power for five decades.


She has yet to reveal what role she intends to play, but analysts expect she will meet diplomats and push for an easing of the sanctions she once backed but now believes are hurting the Burmese people rather than the generals.

"There are areas where she can play a considerable role if given the opportunity and the West will try to use her in this sense," said Derek Tonkin, a former British ambassador to Thailand and prominent Myanmar analyst.

World leaders welcomed her release but urged the junta to free all estimated 2,100 political prisoners.

President Barack Obama said her release was "long overdue" and British Prime Minister David Cameron described her detention as "a travesty." As is typical in Myanmar, the reclusive generals made no comment.

Her release may give the junta a degree of international legitimacy after the November 7 election, the first in 20 years.

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