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Suu Kyi meets with Hollande on historic visit to Paris

In Paris for the final leg of her historic European tour, Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi met with French President François Hollande on Tuesday, who pledged to support Burma’s transition toward democracy.


AFP - President Francois Hollande told Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi Tuesday that France would do everything possible to back the country's democratic transition, as she visited Paris for the last leg of a landmark European tour.

Hollande told the pro-democracy icon that France will support "all actors" in Myanmar's reforms and that Paris was ready to welcome reformist President Thein Sein if he wanted to visit.

Suu Kyi meanwhile called for investment in her country's struggling economy, but not at the expense of democratic reforms.

"I reaffirm here that France will support all the actors in (Myanmar)'s democratic transition and will do everything possible with... the European Union so that this process goes to the end," Hollande said at a joint press conference with Suu Kyi in the Elysee Palace.

Asked about Thein Sein, who Britain last week invited to visit, Hollande said: "If he wants to come, he will come."

David Scott Mathieson, senior researcher at Human Rights Watch, on Burma and the long-standing issue of Rohingya marginalisation

Nobel Peace laureate Suu Kyi, 67, came to France after warm welcomes in Switzerland, Ireland, Norway and Britain and was treated with honours normally accorded a head of state, including a dinner with Hollande and other top officials.

Suu Kyi was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest in November 2010 and became a lawmaker earlier this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy in the Southeast Asian nation.

She has used the European tour to call for transparent investment in Myanmar.

"We need democracy as well as economic development," she said. "Development cannot be a substitute for democracy, it must be used to strengthen the foundations of democracy."

Suu Kyi said "financial transparency in the extractive industries and in fact business in general" were essential to investment.

She said efforts still needed to be made to convince the Myanmar regime of the need for democratic reforms but that Sein seemed sincere.

"I believe that the president is sincere and I believe that he is an honest but I cannot speak for everybody in the government," she said.

"I don't think we can say it (reform) is irreversible until such time as the army is committed to that."

Wearing a green dress, pink shawl and yellow flowers in her hair, Suu Kyi was earlier greeted by well-wishers as she arrived in Paris by train from Britain.

"It's a very great joy... Seeing her here, free, it's historic," Pierre Martial, the head of the France Aung San Suu Kyi association, told AFP at the Paris train station.

"She is a fantastic role model. She made horror and dictatorship retreat through non-violence, it is very rare," he said.

During her three-day visit Suu Kyi will also meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius and other top political leaders, as well as members of the local Myanmar community and her supporters in human rights groups.

Martial said her visit to France was motivated by a desire to thank her supporters in the country.

"France is a symbol in the hearts of many" in Myanmar, he said. "It remains the country of human rights and it is a country that was very mobilised for her."

"Aung San Suu Kyi wanted to truly thank all those who helped her during these long years of repression."

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She enjoyed strong support among rights groups in France and was the subject of a 2011 French-English film biography, "The Lady", directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh.

Suu Kyi launched her European tour on June 13 in Switzerland and arrived in France from Britain, her home for years until she returned to fight for democracy in Myanmar, leaving her children and her English husband behind.

On June 16 in Oslo she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest, pledging to keep up her struggle for democracy.

Suu Kyi's trip to Europe has been clouded by violence in western Myanmar where dozens have been killed and an estimated 90,000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.

Asked about the violence, Suu Kyi said democratic reform was essential to resolving civil conflicts.

"We will need time to bring true harmony between the Muslims and the Buddhists," she said.

"What is most important at the moment is that we should establish rule of law," she said. "We need to make sure that these citizenship laws are in line with international standards."

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