Thu 21 Jun 2012
Filed under: International
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has urged the UK to support moves to democracy in Burma, in an historic address to both Houses of Parliament.Ms Suu Kyi said the support of people in the UK and around the world could get Burma much further towards change.
She earlier met Prime Minister David Cameron at Downing Street.
Ms Suu Kyi, who spent two decades until 2010 under house arrest during military rule in Burma, is the first non-head of state to address Parliament.
She was greeted by applause when she was introduced to MPs and peers in Parliament’s Westminster Hall by Commons Speaker John Bercow, who described her as “the conscience of a country and a heroine for humanity”.
In her address, she said it was important to empower the people of Burma, and now was her country’s most difficult time.
She said: “I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world.
“My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached.
“Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further.”
Ms Suu Kyi said Burma’s current constitution needed to be amended to reflect the country’s ethnic composition. She was given a standing ovation after speaking for about 30 minutes.
Her visit is Ms Suu Kyi’s first trip to the UK since leaving 24 years ago to lead Burma’s pro-democracy movement.
Earlier, at a joint news conference at Number 10, the UK prime minister paid tribute to Ms Suu Kyi.
He said: “Over these years you have been a symbol of courage and of hope for our people and for your people and around the world.
“Your example has inspired people across the world and it’s inspired people here in Britain too.”
Mr Cameron said the UK would invest in strengthening Burmese democracy.
Ms Suu Kyi, who also had talks with Foreign Secretary William Hague, said the “warmth” shown to her on her journey to the UK was a good sign for Burma.
“It means that my country which has long been apart from the democracies of the world will soon begin to join in this great community that will ensure the happy future of our country.”
She said Burma needed investment that supported democracy and human rights.
It has emerged the government has also invited Burma’s leader to visit the UK. The Burmese government is considering the invitation.
BBC political correspondent Ross Hawkins said behind the pomp and circumstance of Ms Suu Kyi’s speech there had been a real political aim and a cry for practical help from the UK.
Ms Suu Kyi’s meeting with Mr Cameron followed an engagement with the Prince of Wales and Duchess of Cornwall at Clarence House. No details of their discussion have been revealed.
Ms Suu Kyi met Mr Cameron in April when he became the first Western leader to visit Burma after the country’s military leaders had decided to allow her and her party to stand in parliamentary elections.
Since then, he has championed the suspension of international sanctions against Burma, arguing that new President Thein Sein is genuinely committed to reform.
Ms Suu Kyi, who is on a four-day visit to the UK, lived in Oxford in the 1980s with her husband, Tibetan scholar Michael Aris, and their sons Alexander and Kim.
She became the leader of Burma’s pro-democracy movement when she returned to Burma in 1988, initially to look after her sick mother.
Ms Suu Kyi, now 67, was placed under house arrest by the military and not released until November 2010.
Her two-week-long tour to Europe – her first since 1988 – also includes visits to Switzerland, France and Norway.
President Thein Sein is a former general who now leads a military-backed party which won the majority of seats in the 2010 general election – a poll boycotted by the party of Ms Suu Kyi.
However, she has spoken warmly of the president in the past, saying he is a man she trusts in negotiations.