Pro-democracy leader Suu Kyi urges govt to be kept 'in check'

Text by: FRANCE 24 (with wires)
6 min

Burma’s pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi urged thousands of supporters on Sunday to seek a democracy that could keep the military government "in check", a day after her release from house arrest by Burma's ruling junta.


Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged thousands of supporters on Sunday to seek a democracy that could keep the government "in check", a day after her release from house arrest by Burma's ruling junta.

"Democracy is when the people keep a government in check. I will accept the people keeping me in check," she told a crowd at the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party, which has been officially banned. "You have to stand up for what is right." 

The pro-democracy leader was released from house arrest in the Burmese capital Rangoon on Saturday after having spent 15 of the past 21 years in and out of detention. Following her release, Suu Kyi said she bore "no antagonism" to those who had ordered her detention and pledged to work with "other democratic forces in the country".

She was greeted by thousands of cheering supporters as she appeared outside her crumbling mansion in the moments following her release.

In Pictures: Supporters celebrate Suu Kyi's release

"We must work together, in unison, to achieve our goal," she told her jubilant supporters. Suu Kyi then retreated to her home for her first meeting with the National League for Democracy in seven years.

Suu Kyi's latest detention began in May 2003 after her motorcade was set upon by a government-backed mob. Her detention period was extended in August 2009 for a further 18 months after a bizarre incident in which an American man swam uninvited to her lakeside home.

The subsequent extension of her arrest sparked international condemnation and ensured that she was unable to participate in the recent widely discredited elections, the first in Burma in 20 years. The military junta won the polls in an apparent landslide victory. Suu Kyi’s party was officially disbanded due to its decision to boycott the Nov. 7 poll, but it remains enormously popular as a social movement in and outside Burma.

Portrait: Burmese pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi

"This is a real opportunity to review the process, to get the UN to revive talks between Aung San Suu Kyi, the generals and the ethnic groups in the country, because that is the way we’re going to get real change there -- not through the fake processes introduced by the generals,” Mark Farmaner of Burma Campaign UK told FRANCE 24.

France warns against restrictions on pro-democracy leader

US President Barack Obama and many European leaders were quick to welcome Suu Kyi’s release. "While the Burmese regime has gone to extraordinary lengths to isolate and silence Aung San Suu Kyi, she has continued her brave fight for democracy, peace, and change in Burma," Obama said in a statement, urging the Burmese junta to free all political prisoners.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Burma against any new restrictions on the pro-democracy icon.

"France will be extremely attentive to the conditions in which Madame Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys her newfound liberty," he said in a statement hailing her release.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said her freedom was long overdue. "Freedom is Aung San Suu Kyi's right. The Burmese regime must now uphold it," he said.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel joined Obama in calling on the military junta to free all remaining political prisoners.

"Aung San Sui Kyi is a symbol for the global fight for the realisation of human rights. Her non-violence and relentlessness have turned her into an admired role model," the German government said.

The ‘illusion of democracy’

But while there was widespread excitement over Suu Kyi’s release, Burmese democracy advocates said the move might actually be serving the interests of the junta.

Marie Battini from Info Birmanie, a Paris-based Burmese democracy advocacy group, warned that the country's military rulers were using Suu Kyi’s release as “part of a strategy to give the illusion that they’re making a step toward democracy so that the international community will relax the pressure on them, and recognise the results of Sunday’s elections.”

A hugely popular symbol of Burma’s democratic aspirations, Suu Kyi is the daughter of General Aung San, a hero of Burmese independence.

Her political pedigree as well as her sweeping victory in the 1990 election -- the results of which were subsequently annulled -- has been a thorn in the military junta’s side for decades.

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