Burmese democracy leaderwalked free on Saturday to the cheers of thousands of her supporters and the acclaim of world leaders who lauded her decades-long fight against the country’s military rulers.
She smiled and waved to the jubilant crowd outside her lakeside home in Rangoon. Many of her cheering supporters wore T-shirts emblazoned with her picture and the inscription, “We Stand with Aung San Suu Kyi.”
Speaking briefly in Burmese, she told the well-wishers, “If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal.” She urged the crowd to come to her political headquarters on Sunday to hear her speak.
U.S. President Barack Obama was among world leaders to welcome her release, saying that she was “a hero of mine.” He said Aung San Suu Kyi was “a source of inspiration” for everyone fighting for human rights in Burma and around the world.
As the crowd gathered outside her home in anticipation of her freedom, military officials entered it and read her release order, ending her house arrest. It was the latest in a series of detentions that has kept the Nobel Peace Prize laureate confined for 15 of the last 21 years. She led her National League for Democracy to a landslide victory in Burma’s national election two decades ago, but the military rulers refused to allow it to assume power.
She called for a boycott of last Sunday’s election, balloting widely viewed by Western leaders and human rights activists as rife with fraud and an attempt by the military to put a civilian facade on its continued rule. The military-backed party has already claimed a majority of seats in both houses of Parliament.
As the 65-year-old woman known in Burma simply as “The Lady” was freed, police removed barricades around her home and truckloads of riot police cruising the streets left the area.
Aung San Suu Kyi’s release raises immediate questions about how much freedom the military rulers will grant her. Her followers say she will not accept any conditions on her release. Her lawyer says she would resume political activities.
The Norwegian Nobel committee invited her to come to Oslo to belatedly make an an acceptance speech for her 1991 Peace Prize. But it acknowledged that she might not want to go without assurances from the Burma government that she would be allowed back into the country. She was under another house arrest term when she won the award and her two sons accepted it for her.
Khin Ohmar, the coordinator of the Burma Partnership, a coalition advocating democracy in Burma, says the military government is afraid of Aung San Suu Kyi’s influence. Some analysts think the military might view Aung San Suu Kyi’s release as a way to soften overseas criticism of last Sunday’s election.
The rulers did not allow international observers to enter Burma to watch the voting, but there were reports of punishment being meted out to those who voted against the military’s political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party.