Mon 15 Aug 2011
Filed under: Inside Burma
Bago, Myanmar — Myanmar’s leading dissident, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, raised her political profile on Sunday, traveling to the countryside to greet supporters and comfort victims of flooding. Despite warnings in the state media that the trip could incite unrest, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi went unfettered to this city 50 miles from her home in Yangon, the country’s business hub.
“We invite the public’s voice,” she said in one of three speeches she delivered to supporters. “Only when voices are heard can the people who work for the country take action.”
She described Sunday’s outing as the first political trip since her release from house arrest in November. (A trip last month to the central city of Bagan was a vacation, her aides said.) But Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi offered no specifics Sunday on her next move in the political chess match she is playing with the nominally civilian government that took over in January and that is backed by the powerful military in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
She has met twice in recent weeks with representatives of the government who have delivered uncharacteristically conciliatory overtures toward her in the local media. On Friday, the government urged her to re-register her political movement as a party. The National League for Democracy, as it is known, was officially dissolved last year because of its refusal to take part in the November elections.
If the government is treading softly with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, 66, it is partly because of the potential leverage she holds in convincing Western nations to drop economic sanctions against the country. She has been noncommittal in her stance on the issue until now.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, remains a symbol of democracy and defiance toward the military. Sunday’s trip and other trips that aides say they are planning for the coming months will test her popularity after the better part of two decades under house arrest — and out of sight.
She was greeted affectionately on Sunday by hundreds of people who offered her flowers along the roadside and who turned out to listen to her speak. But the number of supporters appeared less than the throngs who turned out for a similar tour through central Myanmar in 2003, a trip that turned deadly when a mob of pro-government supporters attacked her convoy and killed more than 30 people.
Some who came to see her on Sunday said they did so out of curiosity. Others, like Daw Yee, a 90-year-old woman, were nearly overcome with emotion after getting a hug from Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi.
“I have been wanting to meet her my whole life,” Ms. Yee said. “If I die now, that’s O.K. — I am satisfied.”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi visited a Buddhist monastery with victims of severe flooding in the area. With the streets of downtown Bago resembling Venetian canals, thousands of residents have been forced from their homes and now sleep on the floor of the monastery.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi also walked through the halls of a nearby Buddhist pagoda surrounded by aides who clasped their hands in a protective cordon around her.
“I want you all to continue supporting us,” she told the crowds. “Love or kindness works two ways. If you love me, I love you.”