Belfast Telegraph

Sunday 20 April 2014

Suu Kyi sets out on trip to Europe

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is taking her first European trip since 1988 (AP)

Long-time democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi has set out on her first European trip since 1988 to make a long-awaited acceptance speech for the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize, at a time when Burma is making tenuous democratic progress.

When Ms Suu Kyi last saw Europe, it was still divided into the democratic West and communist East and her homeland of Burma was still under oppressive military rule.

Her scheduled return to Burma by the end of the month will get her back in time to attend the July 4 reconvening of Parliament.

The parliamentary session will be considering crucial legislation, including media regulation and foreign investment.

Cheerful and energetic at Rangoon's airport, Ms Suu Kyi waved to journalists and passengers as she headed to the departure lounge. Asked about her trip, Ms Suu Kyi told reporters she expects it to be eye-opening.

"Each country will be different. I will know how backward (Burma) is when I reach the other countries," Ms Suu Kyi said.

For 24 years, the opposition leader was either under house arrest or too fearful that if she left Burma, the former military regime would not let her return. She stayed put even as her British husband was dying of cancer in England in 1999.

This will be Ms Suu Kyi's second overseas trip after a recent, five-day tour in Thailand and will be filled with high-profile events bound to burnish Ms Suu Kyi's image as an international political celebrity.

At her first stop in Geneva, Ms Suu Kyi will address the annual conference of the UN's International Labour Organisation. Her next stop is Norway for what is expected to be an emotional acceptance speech of her Nobel prize, 21 years late.

She will briefly stop in Dublin to personally thank U2 frontman Bono for his support over the years. They will share the stage at a concert in her honour organised by Amnesty International. In the UK, Ms Suu Kyi will receive the rare honour of addressing both houses of Britain's parliament and will accept an honorary doctorate at Oxford, where she studied and later lived with her husband and sons, Alexander and Kim.

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