Aung San Suu Kyi draws crowds on Burma election campaign trail

Aung San Suu Kyi greets supporters in Dawei
Image caption Crowds gather wherever Aung San Suu Kyi goes

Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, is visiting the coastal town of Dawei on a political tour ahead of by-elections on 1 April.

It is the first time she has ventured outside Rangoon for several months. The visit is seen as a test of how freely she and her party are able to campaign.

Thousands gathered to see the 66-year-old Nobel peace prize winner, who was released from house arrest in 2010.

Burma's military-backed government has embarked on a cautious reform process.

Aung San Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD) is contesting all the available constituencies in the coming by-elections.

She herself is seeking office in the rural township of Kawhmu.

An NLD spokesman told the BBC Ms Suu Kyi's visit to Dawei was intended to help organise the local party ahead of the elections.

However, this is much more than just an administrative trip, says the BBC's Southeast Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey.

Wherever Ms Suu Kyi goes, crowds gather, hoping to catch a glimpse of the woman who was kept under house arrest for 15 of the last 23 years.

In Dawei they stood by the road chanting: "Long live Aung San Suu Kyi."

AFP news agency quoted her as telling supporters: "If we move in the right direction our country will have many opportunities. We are eager to seize them."

Reform process

The Burmese government is planning to build a huge industrial complex in Dawei, which could transform the region.

Earlier this month the authorities cancelled plans for a coal-fired power plant there because of environmental concerns.

This was widely seen as a victory for local activists and a sign that the process of reform is developing, says our correspondent.

The poll in April will be the first time that Ms Suu Kyi will participate directly in an election. She was under house arrest in 1990 when the NLD won the election by a landslide. It was not allowed to take power.

The NLD boycotted the 2010 election that saw the military-backed civilian administration of President Thein Sein replace the military junta.

The new administration has since entered into dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi and has changed the electoral laws that led to the NLD boycott.