Celebrations as Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi released

The BBC's correspondent in Rangoon witnessed Aung San Suu Kyi's release

World leaders and human rights groups have reacted with joy at the release from house arrest of Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Ms Suu Kyi walked from her Rangoon house at the end of her sentence on Saturday, having been detained for most of the past two decades.

Her lawyers say no conditions have been placed on her freedom.

She is expected to address supporters. A large crowd has gathered outside the offices of her NLD party to hear her.

She arrived at NLD headquarters on Sunday and is also expected to meet diplomats.

However correspondents say it is not yet clear what political role she will be able to play.

Her release comes six days after Burma held its first elections in 20 years - they were won by the military but widely condemned as a sham.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won the election in 1990 but was never allowed to take power. She has been under house arrest or in prison almost continually ever since.

'Inspiration'

Start Quote

At best it's a single step forward on the proverbial thousand mile journey”

End Quote Jared Genser Lawyer for Ms Suu Kyi

Thousands of Ms Suu Kyi's supporters had gathered outside her home in Rangoon since Friday to await her release.

No official announcement was given but in the late morning on Saturday, her release papers were delivered to her house and she emerged to huge celebrations - the cheers were so loud she was unable to address the crowds for about half an hour.

Ms Suu Kyi told the crowd there was "a time to be quiet and a time to talk", and that she would visit the now-disbanded NLD at their headquarters on Sunday.

US President Barack Obama said Ms Suu Kyi was a "hero" of his while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said she was an "inspiration".

But both leaders warned that her release should not mask the continued political oppression in Burma.

Analysis

What we saw here were scenes of extraordinary, unforgettable pleasure. But no-one knows what comes next.

Aung San Suu Kyi phrased her new policy with deliberate vagueness when she talked about people working together to achieve their goals.

Working with the opposition leaders who thought she was wrong to opt out of last week's elections, certainly - but working with the generals who run this country and who have kept her prisoner so long, that's going to be very hard indeed.

This isn't South Africa and the old regime isn't just prepared to fade away.

"Whether Aung San Suu Kyi is living in the prison of her house, or the prison of her country, does not change the fact that she, and the political opposition she represents, has been systematically silenced," said Mr Obama.

Mr Ban called on Burma to "build on today's action by releasing all remaining political prisoners".

British Prime Minister David Cameron said Ms Suu Kyi's detention had been a "travesty" and that her release had been "long overdue".

"Freedom is Aung San Suu Kyi's right. The Burmese regime must now uphold it," he said.

Jared Genser, an international lawyer who acts for Ms Suu Kyi and president of the campaign group Freedom Now, told the BBC no conditions had been placed on her release.

"They did try to place conditions on her but those were declined, and ultimately the junta decided that it was going to let her go nevertheless," he said.

Mr Genser said it was a very exciting time, but warned: "At best it's a single step forward on the proverbial thousand mile journey."

"Unlike when Nelson Mandela was freed in 1994 and change was in the air and the then-apartheid government of South Africa was clearly looking to do a deal with Nelson Mandela, we see none of those signs present in Burma today," he said.

Start Quote

She has proven herself a million times over as worthy of the Nobel Peace Prize”

End Quote Jim Lewis, Montreal, Canada
Boycott

Ms Suu Kyi was first detained in 1989.

Her latest period of house arrest was extended by 18 months in August last year, following an incident in which a US man swam across the lake to her home.

Correspondents say it is too early to say whether Ms Suu Kyi's release will have a significant impact on Burma's political scene, and to what extent she will be free to engage in political activity.

Her release comes too late for her to take part in the elections, which were billed by the junta as marking the transition from military to civilian rule but were widely criticised as being neither free nor fair.

The NLD had refused to contest the election, partly because new electoral laws prevented anyone with a criminal record - therefore many of its leaders and members - could not run for office.

Its refusal meant it is no longer legally recognised as a party, and so its most famous democracy campaigner has no official political status and an unclear role.

Map

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