Burma's Suu Kyi tells followers not to give up hope

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to reporters in Rangoon after her speech

Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged her supporters not to give up hope, a day after her release from house arrest.

"There is no reason to lose heart," she told thousands outside the headquarters of her political party in Rangoon.

Ms Suu Kyi was released by the military when her sentence ended on Saturday.

World leaders and human rights groups have welcomed her release. She had spent 15 of the past 21 years either under house arrest or in prison.

US President Barack Obama welcomed her release as "long overdue", while UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Ms Suu Kyi was an "inspiration", and urged Burma to free its 2,200 political prisoners.

At the scene

Aung Sang Suu Kyi had to struggle through the throngs of jubilant supporters to reach the podium where she was supposed to speak. Thousands had gathered to hear her.

They were probably expecting Ms Suu Kyi to make clear what she planned to do now that she was free - in the event she asked for help. She said she could not do it alone, and was "ready to work with all democratic forces" - an appeal perhaps to an opposition bitterly divided over the recent election here to unite once more.

She told the crowd she believed in the rule of human rights and the rule of law and felt no antagonism to those who had kept her detained for much of the past two decades. The basis of democratic freedom, she said, was freedom of speech. But she cautioned that if her supporters wanted to get to where they wanted, they had to do it the right way. "Do not give up hope," she added.

Ms Suu Kyi's words were measured and careful, she will know that the military leaders who rule this country will be scrutinising her every move and today she was careful not to provoke them.

Ms Suu Kyi has told the BBC in her first interview that she is willing to meet Burma's leader, Senior General Than Shwe, to help work towards national reconciliation.

"I think we will have to sort out our differences across the table, talking to each other, agreeing to disagree, or finding out why we disagree and trying to remove the sources of our disagreement," she said.

"There are so many things that we have to talk about," she added.

Her release came six days after Burma held its first elections in 20 years, which was won by the biggest military-backed party, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP), but widely condemned as a sham.

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

On Saturday, lawyers said no conditions had been placed on her freedom. But it is not yet clear what political role she will be able to play.

The ruling junta has restricted her travel and freedom to associate during previous brief spells of liberty, and demanded she quit politics.

'Treated well'

Ms Suu Kyi was mobbed by her supporters as she made her way for the first time since her release from her house to the NLD's offices.

First, she met party members and foreign diplomats, and then addressed a crowd of about 4,000 people. People chanted "We love Suu", amid thunderous applause.

Aung San Suu Kyi was mobbed by thousands of people in Rangoon

The Nobel Peace Prize winner said freedom of speech was the basis of democracy, but warned her followers that if they wanted change they would have to go about getting it in the right way.

"We must work together," she told them. "We Burmese tend to believe in fate, but if we want change we have to do it ourselves."

She pledged to continue her work "with all democratic forces" towards national reconciliation, and had no ill-feelings towards those who detained her.

"They treated me well. I only wish they treated the people in the same way," she said, adding that she had listened to media broadcasts for up to six hours a day.

And, in a veiled reference to last week's election, told the crowd: "Nothing can be achieved without the participation of the people."

The 65-year-old reportedly spent much of Saturday evening discussing the future of the NLD, which was officially disbanded after it boycotted the election, and she urged people to tell the party what they wanted.

Aung San Suu Kyi

  • Born 1945, daughter of Burma's independence hero, General Aung San, assassinated in 1947
  • 1960: Leaves Burma and is later educated at Oxford University
  • 1988: Returns to care for sick mother and is caught up in revolt against then-dictator Ne Win
  • 1989: Put under house arrest as Burma junta declares martial law
  • 1990: NLD wins election; military disregards result
  • 1991: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
  • 1995: Released from house arrest, but movements restricted
  • 2000: Near continuous period of house arrest begins
  • Sept 2007: First public appearance since 2003, greeting protesting Buddhist monks
  • November 2010: NLD boycotts first election in 20 years and is disbanded; House arrest ends

"Please let us know what you are thinking, what is on your mind. I would like to know over the last six years what changes have taken place in the people and what they are thinking," she said.

"Please do not give up hope. There is no reason to lose heart," she added. "Even if you are not political, politics will come to you."

When asked at a later news conference about the future of the NLD, Ms Suu Kyi said she had not founded it "just as a party".

"I did not found the National League for Democracy just as a party. I founded it as a movement for democracy, an organisation for change. As long as the people want democracy in Burma the organisation will exist."

"We are trying to achieve it as quickly as possible, but I do not know how long it will take to get democracy."

She also said she was willing to talk to Western nations about lifting sanctions on Burma, which she previously supported.

"If the people really want sanctions to be lifted, I will consider it," she said. "This is the time that Burma needs help."

The BBC is banned from reporting in Burma, but a correspondent in Rangoon says there was no obvious security presence around the NLD's offices, but government agents in plain clothes seemed to be competing with journalists to get the best pictures of faces in the crowd.

For now, the authorities are letting things run their course, but it is unclear how long this will last and how much will they tolerate, she adds.

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