Myanmar opposition leader tests limits of freedom with political foray
BAGO, Myanmar - Thousands of well-wishers lined roadsides in Myanmar to welcome opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she tested the limits of her freedom yesterday by taking her first political trip into the countryside since being released from house arrest.
The military-dominated country’s government had warned that the democracy icon’s journey could trigger riots, but it took place peacefully in two towns north of the main city of Yangon, and Suu Kyi returned home without incident.
The last time Suu Kyi traveled out of Yangon to meet supporters, assailants ambushed her entourage. She escaped harm but was detained and placed under seven years of house arrest, from which she was released last November.
Yesterday, Suu Kyi met hundreds of supporters in Bago, about 50 miles north of Yangon, and the nearby town of Thanatpin, where she gave a 10-minute speech calling for unity and support for her political party. She also urged residents to persevere despite economic hardships that have forced many to seek jobs abroad.
Addressing a crowd in Bago, Suu Kyi implied that true democratic change will take time.
“I know what the people want, and I am trying my best to fulfill the wishes of the people,’’ she said. “However, I don’t want to give false hope.’’
Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi’s party, said the trip was crucial because it “will test the reaction of the authorities and will test the response of the people.’’ One of her party’s spokesmen, Nyan Win, said more trips will follow, but neither the dates nor the destinations have been decided.
After half a century of army rule, the country formerly known as Burma organized elections late last year and officially handed power to a civilian administration in March. But Suu Kyi’s party boycotted the vote and decried it as a sham. Critics say the new government, led by retired military figures, is a proxy for continued military rule and that little has changed.
Some 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, more than 100,000 refugees live in neighboring countries, and sporadic clashes have erupted in the northeast between government troops and ethnic militias who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.