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Suu Kyi seeks Burma parliament seat

Ecstatic cheers of "long live Aung San Suu Kyi!" echoed through the streets of Rangoon as Burma's best-known woman registered her candidacy for a parliamentary by-election.

Throngs of flag-waving supporters crowded the local election office to shout support and catch a glimpse of the 66-year-old Nobel Peace laureate, who spent years under house arrest.

The scene would have been unthinkable while the country was still under military rule. Ms Suu Kyi was despised by the junta because of her popularity and any public support for her was swiftly and firmly halted.

Her decision to contest the April polls is the latest vote of confidence for reforms by the country's new, nominally civilian government. Since taking office in March, authorities have released hundreds of prominent political prisoners, signed ceasefires with ethnic rebels, increased press freedoms and opened a dialogue with Ms Suu Kyi herself.

Even if Ms Suu Kyi's party wins all 48 seats to be contested on April 1, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house of Parliament is heavily weighted with military appointees and allies of the former junta.

But a victory would be historic. It would give the long-time political prisoner a voice in parliament for the first time in her decades-long role as the country's opposition leader.

Ms Suu Kyi registered to run for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Rangoon where villagers' livelihoods were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008. Crowds greeted her at the local Election Commission office in Thanlyin, many wearing Suu Kyi T-shirts.

Suu Kyi paraphernalia has proliferated in recent months with vendors hawking photographs, key chains and calendars, seen as another testament to the country's breakneck pace of change.

The Election Commission must still accept Ms Suu Kyi's candidacy, a ruling expected to come next month. Her party has so far chosen 44 candidates to contest the 48 seats vacated by lawmakers who became Cabinet ministers.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a landslide victory in 1990 elections but was denied power by the military junta. Ms Suu Kyi herself was under house arrest during those elections and barred from running.

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