TODAY -
Living icon of democracy Suu Kyi tastes freedom after 2 decades
Source: The Sangai Express / AFP

Yangon, November 13 2010: Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi walked free on Saturday from the lakeside home that has been her prison for most of the past two decades, to the delight of huge crowds of waiting supporters.

Waving and smiling, the petite but indomitable Nobel Peace Prize winner appeared outside the crumbling mansion where she had been locked up by the military junta for 15 of the past 21 years.

Loud cheers and clapping erupted from the thousands of people who had gathered outside her house under the tropical sun for a glimpse of the 65-year-old dissident, known to her supporters simply as "The Lady".

Someone threw her a flower which she put in her hair.

Earlier people had surged foward towards her home as police removed barricades blocking the way.

Although she has been sidelined and silenced by the junta—occasionally released briefly only to be put back in confinement—for many in the impoverished nation she still embodies hope of a better future.



Suu Kyi signals her release with a bouquet of flowers, while supporters come out in full strength to share the moment of joy


"I think of her as my mother and also my sister and grandmother because she's the daughter of our independence leader General Aung San," said 45-year-old Naing Naing Win.

"She has her father's blood" .

Despite the risks of opposing the military regime in a country with more than 2,200 political prisoners, many supporters wore T-shirts bearing her image and the words : "We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi" .

Undercover police were photographing and filming the crowds.

Myanmar's most famous dissident has 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 the first election in 20 years.

The democracy icon swept her party to victory in elections two decades ago, but it was never allowed to take power.

Suu Kyi's party boycotted Sunday's vote, which was widely decried in the West as a sham.

When last released in 2002 she drew huge crowds wherever she went—a reminder that years of detention had not dimmed her immense popularity.

Some fear that junta chief Than Shwe will continue to put restrictions on the freedom of his number one enemy.

But her lawyer Nyan Win has suggested she would refuse to accept any conditions on her release, as in the past when she tried in vain to leave Yangon in defiance of the regime's orders.

Her 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.

Her youngest son Kim Aris, 33, arrived in Bangkok ahead of her release but it was unclear whether he would be allowed to visit his mother.

Suu Kyi's freedom is seen by observers as an effort by the regime to tame international criticism of Sunday's election, the first since the 1990 vote.

Western nations and pro-democracy activists have blasted the poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.

The NLD's decision not to participate in the election deeply split Myanmar's opposition and Suu Kyi's party has been disbanded, leaving her future role uncertain.

Little is known about her plans although her lawyer says she has expressed a desire to join Twitter to reach out to the Internet generation.

Few expect her to give up her long struggle for freedom from repression and attention is now on whether she can reunite the splintered opposition and bring about the democratic change that has eluded Myanmar for so long.


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