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Suu Kyi handed US Congressional medal

3 min

Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi made a moving address at the White House on Wednesday during her first visit as an elected member of parliament, where she received the Congressional Gold Medal and met President Barack Obama.


US Congress hailed Aung San Suu Kyi a hero of democracy Wednesday in a lavish ceremony unthinkable only months ago. Suu Kyi, making a coast-to-coast US tour, was presented with the Congressional Gold Medal for her long fight for democracy in a country ruled by army generals since 1962.

She also met fellow Nobel Peace laureate President Barack Obama for the first time. The Oval Office setting for the first meeting between the two Nobel Peace laureates afforded Suu Kyi’s visit some of the trappings normally reserved for visiting foreign presidents and prime ministers.

The president expressed his admiration for Suu Kyi’s courage and personal sacrifice in championing democracy and human rights over the years, the White House said in a statement after the meeting.

“This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land,” Suu Kyi said during a moving speech to congress.

“Among all these faces are some I saw while I was under house arrest, and some I saw after I was released from house arrest,” said Suu Kyi, acknowledging strong support from US lawmakers during her 17 years of house arrest.

Freed in 2010 after 15 years of under house arrest, Suu Kyi received a rapturous welcome on her first visit to Washington since her release. US lawmakers and officials who turned out to honor Suu Kyi expressed amazement – some tearing up – that she had made the journey from house arrest to Washington.

Sanctions lifted

Earlier on Wednesday, the United States removed sanctions that blocked any US assets of Burmese President Thein Sein and parliamentary speaker Thura Shwe Mann, that generally barred American companies from dealing with them.

The two men "have taken concrete steps to promote political reforms and human rights, and to move Burma away from repression and dictatorship toward democracy and freedom, warranting today's delisting action," Treasury Under Secretary for Terrorism and Financial Intelligence David Cohen said in a statement.

Thein Sein and lower house speaker Shwe Mann, once members of the former military junta who have won international praise for driving reforms in the 18 months since the military ceded power to a quasi-civilian government, were both removed from the US Treasury’s list of “specially designated nationals.”

US officials say Thein Sein – who will take part in the UN General Assembly next week – deserves to be recognized for pushing through such speedy changes. Thein Sein will visit New York for the annual U.N. General Assembly next week, when he is expected to meet senior U.S. officials.

Both Suu Kyi and Secretary of State Hillary Clinton acknowledged the presence in the audience of President Thein Sein.

(FRANCE 24 with wires)

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