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Aung San Suu Kyi walks free

P.S. Suryanarayana
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She exhorts people of Myanmar to act in “unison” to achieve democracy

Taste of freedom: Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to supporters outside her home in Yangon on Saturday. The junta freed its archrival after her latest term of detention expired. — Photo: AP
Taste of freedom: Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks to supporters outside her home in Yangon on Saturday. The junta freed its archrival after her latest term of detention expired. — Photo: AP

Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's celebrated pro-democracy leader and a political prisoner of global stature, was set free from house arrest in Yangon on Saturday.

The 65-year-old Ms. Suu Kyi's release was greeted by cheering supporters who gathered outside her house in a show of defiance against Myanmar's military government. Hundreds of other supporters waited for her at the Yangon headquarters of the recently-derecognised National League for Democracy (NLD), which she still leads.

Several world leaders hailed her in comments on the release, which was ordered before the junta, the State Peace and Development Council, could transfer power to an ostensibly “civilian” government in the wake of the November 7 general election.

The Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) expressed relief over member-state Myanmar's action of setting Ms. Suu Kyi free at least now. It was not immediately clear whether any restrictions would still be imposed on her.

Myanmar's military establishments have subjected Ms. Suu Kyi to several terms of house arrest and a few spells in prison, for about 15 years in all since 1989. She led the NLD to a landslide victory in the country's free elections in 1990 but was not allowed to lead a civilian government.

Walking free for the first time since 2003, Ms. Suu Kyi covered the distance from her old lakeside bungalow to the gate to acknowledge the greetings of her supporters. As she smiled and waved at them from across the gate, an enthusiast tossed up a bunch of flowers for her. The video-footage of her first public appearance in several years showed her accepting the flowers in a typical oriental style. She appeared to be in good spirit.

Ms. Suu Kyi was later quoted as having exhorted the people of Myanmar to act in “unison” to achieve genuine democracy. NLD sources could not be reached over the telephone, despite repeated calls, for ascertaining her exact message.

Speaking to The Hindu from Yangon hours before her release, Ms. Suu Kyi's close associate and NLD spokesman Nyan Win said she would not accept conditional freedom. He and other NLD leaders would discuss with her a strategy to counter the outcome of the flawed November 7 election, which their party boycotted.

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