Myanmar celebrates Suu Kyi release
Yangon, November 13, 2010
Myanmar democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi walked out of her home to rapturous cheers from thousands of supporters on Saturday after the country's military rulers released her from seven years of house arrest.
'People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal,' the Nobel Peace Prize-winner said, smiling as she clenched the tops of red-iron gates bordering her crumbling lakeside mansion, her hair pinned with flowers given from a supporter.
'When the time comes to talk, do not be quiet,' added Suu Kyi, held under house arrest or jailed for 15 of the past 21 years because of steadfast opposition to nearly half a century of unbroken military rule.
Her latest house arrest term expired on Saturday, but it was not clear whether she would be freed until police withdrew from her home, removed barricades and let her meet with supporters.
Her house arrest was extended in August last year, when a court found she had broken a law protecting the state against 'subversive elements' by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home for two nights.
Suu Kyi gives Myanmar a powerful pro-democracy voice just days after a widely criticized election and will rekindle debate over Western sanctions on the resource-rich country of 50 million people nestled strategically between China and India.
After speaking to supporters, the 65-year-old daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San returned to her home for the first meeting with her National League for Democracy party in seven years.
World leaders applauded her release, expressed relief and urged the military junta in the former Burma to free all of its estimated 2,100 political prisoners.
'The United States welcomes her long overdue release,' US President Barack Obama said in a statement. 'It is time for the Burmese regime to release all political prisoners, not just one.'
European Commission President Jose-Manuel Barroso urged Myanmar to ensure Suu Kyi can stay politically active. UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon regretted she was excluded from last Sunday's election and urged the authorities to release all remaining political prisoners.'
Supporters had gathered near her lakeside house throughout the day, many chanting 'Release Aung San Suu Kyi' and 'Long live Aung San Suu Kyi.' Some wore T-shirts emblazoned with messages pledging to stand with her.
As the crowd swelled, riot police armed with guns and tear gas ordered the increasingly vocal and anxious supporters to move back from the barricades.
Her freedom may give the junta some international legitimacy after a November 7 election, the first in 20 years, that an army-backed party won in a choreographed landslide condemned as rigged to entrench military rule behind a facade of democracy.
It could also lead to a review of Western sanctions on the reclusive country, which just over 50 years ago was one of Southeast Asia's most promising and wealthiest, the world's biggest rice exporter and a major energy producer.-Reuters