Yangon: Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, freed from seven years of house arrest, told thousands of wildly cheering supporters on Sunday that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law in the military-controlled nation. She called for face-to-face talks with the junta’s leader.
Suu Kyi further urged thousands of supporters not to lose heart.
She spoke to about 5,000 people who crowded around the dilapidated headquarters of her political party, the first stop for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate after leaving the lakeside residence that had been her prison.
“I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law. I will always fight for these things,” she said. “I want to work with all democratic forces and I need the support of the people.”
“Democracy is when the people keep a government in check. I will accept the people keeping me in check,” she said.
“You have to stand up for what is right,” the charismatic 65-year-old Nobel peace laureate added in a rousing speech that showed she had not lost her touch to mesmerise large crowds. “If we want to get what we want, we have to do it in the right way,” she said to cheers and loud applause outside the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party, adding the “basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech.”
Suu Kyi, 65, told reporters her message to junta leader General Than Shwe was, “Let’s speak to each other directly.” The two last met in secret talks in 2002 at the encouragement of the United Nations.
“I am for national reconciliation. I am for dialogue. Whatever authority I have, I will use it to that end. I hope people will support me,” she said.
She entered the small compound of her National League for Democracy as people shouted “We love Suu” amid thunderous applause.
Inside, she met with Yangon-based diplomats and was later scheduled to attend the funeral of a close friend and pay a customary visit to the city’s sacred Shwedagon pagoda.
“This is an unconditional release. No restrictions are placed on her,” her lawyer Nyan Win said.
There was speculation whether the charismatic and relentlessly outspoken Suu Kyi would use her freedom to challenge the ruling military head-on, or be more conciliatory.
She did not sound a strident note, saying she bore no grudge against those who had held her in detention for more than 15 of the last 21 years, adding that she had been well-treated.
“I hope they (the military) won’t feel threatened by me. Popularity is something that comes and goes. I don’t think that anyone should feel threatened by it,” she said.
Suu Kyi thanked her well-wishers and asked them to pray for those still imprisoned by the junta. Human rights groups say the government holds more than 2,200 political prisoners.
“If my people are not free, how can I say I am free? Either we are all free together or we are not free together,” she said.
Speaking of her isolation while under house arrest, Suu Kyi said she “always felt free within myself. I kept myself pretty much on an even keel.” But she said that for years she had only listened to the radio, adding “I’d like to listen to human voices.”
In her first public appearance on Saturday evening, Suu Kyi indicated she would continue with her political activity but did not specify whether she would challenge the military with mass rallies and other activities that led to her earlier detentions.
“We have a lot of things to do,” said Suu Kyi, who has come to symbolise the struggle for democracy in the isolated and secretive nation once known as Burma. The country has been ruled by the military since 1962.