Newly freed Suu Kyi prepares to address supporters

YANGON- Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is set to rally her many supporters Sunday with a rare political address on her first full day of freedom after release from years of house arrest.
Myanmar's independence hero carries a weight of expectation among her followers for a better future for the nation after almost half a century of military dictatorship.

Newly freed Suu Kyi prepares to address supporters
A crowd of thousands roared its approval on Saturday after the Nobel Peace Prize Winner -- who has been locked up for most of the past two decades -- appeared after the end of her latest seven-year stretch of detention.
"We must work together in unison," she told the sea of jubilant people waiting outside the crumbling lakeside mansion where she had been held, suggesting she plans to keep up her long struggle against the military regime.
"I'm glad that you are welcoming me and supporting me. I want to say that there will be a time to come out. Do not stay quiet when that time comes."
The 65-year-old urged her followers to come to her party's headquarters at noon (0530 GMT) on Sunday to listen to what would be her first political address in seven years.
Many in the impoverished nation see the democracy icon as their best chance for freedom.
But it remains to be seen whether the most famous dissident in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, can live up to her long-suffering compatriots' high expectations.
She has said little about her plans and attention is focussed on whether she can reunite the divided opposition after an election widely criticised by the West as a sham to prolong military rule behind a facade of democracy.
"Her main task is to save the Burmese people from this cruel government," said a 24-year-old member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party, who did not give her name.
"Our country must become democratic. Our future depends on Aung San Suu Kyi," added NLD youth leader Nyi Min. "She gives us hope and courage. Only she can free us from this anarchist regime."
World leaders, too, will be pouring over the softly spoken Suu Kyi's words to get an indication of her political intentions.
Many countries were quick to welcome her release Saturday, with US President Barack Obama hailing her as "a hero of mine".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Suu Kyi as "an inspiration" to the world, but said the junta must free all political prisoners.
Setting her free is a huge gamble for Myanmar's generals, and observers see it as an attempt to tame criticism of the recent election, the country's first in 20 years.
Some fear that junta chief Than Shwe will continue to put restrictions on the freedom of his number one enemy.
But a senior government official said there were no strings attached.
"She is completely free -- there are no conditions at all," the official told AFP, speaking on condition of anonymity.
Western nations and pro-democracy activists have blasted the November 7 poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud.
The NLD boycotted the vote, a decision that deeply split the opposition.
Suu Kyi has been under house arrest since 2003 -- just one of several stretches of detention at the hands of the ruling generals.
Her sentence was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, sparking international condemnation and keeping her off the scene for the first election in 20 years.
The pro-democracy leader swept her party to victory in a 1990 election, but it was never allowed to take power.
Suu Kyi's struggle for her country has come at a high personal cost: her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the junta refused him a visa to see his wife.
She has not seen her two sons for about a decade and has never met her grandchildren.
Her youngest son Kim Aris, 33, arrived in Bangkok ahead of her release but it was unclear whether he would be allowed to visit his mother.

Sunday, November 14th 2010

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