Suu Kyi urges freedom of speech in Myanmar


YANGON: Pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi called for freedom of speech in army-ruled Myanmar on Sunday and urged thousands of supporters to stand up for their rights and not lose heart, indicating she might pursue a political role.
“Democracy is when the people keep a government in check. I will accept the people keeping me in check,” she said in her first major address since being freed from seven years of house arrest a day earlier.
Suu Kyi could give Myanmar a strong pro-democracy voice days after a widely criticised election, and could rekindle debate over Western sanctions on the resource-rich country of 50 million people nestled strategically between China and India.
“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.”
She said she had no antagonism toward the military junta who kept her detained for 15 of the past 21 years, and that she was treated well during house arrest — comments that suggested she is willing to engage with the junta.
She spent much of the previous evening huddled in talks over the future of her now-defunct party, her first such meeting in seven years. “She said she would like to know the genuine desire of the people, to hear the voice of the people in adopting future plans, so we need to get in touch with the people,” Ohn Kyaing, a senior member of Suu Kyi’s party, told Reuters.
There were no conditions attached to her release, he added. The daughter of assassinated independence hero General Aung San also met with diplomats on Sunday. She planned to hold a news conference later in the day, Ohn Kyaing said.
Her latest house arrest term expired on Saturday. The military government had given no indication she would be freed, until police withdrew from outside her lakeside home and removed barbed wire barricades holding back supporters chanting for her release.
The state-controlled New Light of Myanmar newspaper said she was granted a pardon after “she was found to be displaying good conduct”. It quoted Police Chief Khin Yi as telling her that the government was “ready to give her whatever help she needs”.
She is expected to rebuild her National League for Democracy (NLD) party, which scored a landslide election victory in 1990 which the junta ignored, but her exact role is not clear after an election last week dominated by an army-backed party. Other pro-democracy parties looked forward to her leadership.
“We consider her a national leader and she does not belong to any single group or party. She belongs to the entire nation,” said Khin Maung Swe, leader of the National Democratic Force, a party led by renegade members of Suu Kyi’s party. “We are very anxious to hear her voice.”
The NLD, Myanmar’s strongest democratic force, was dissolved by the military in September for failing to register for an election it dismissed as unfair and unjust. The party has since been declared an “unlawful association” and will play no official role in the new political system of the former Burma.
Across the commercial capital Yangon, residents celebrated freedom for “The Lady”, as she is affectionately known, a mesmerising speaker capable of drawing big crowds.