Burmese opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest Nov. 14, walking free for the first time in seven years. Euphoric crowds of supporters greeted her as spoke to them for the first time since 2003 from the front gate of her crumbling lakeside villa on University Avenue in Rangoon.
Kept out of the political arena, Suu Kyi has led a quiet life inside the house passed down to her by her late mother. Her two live-in caretakers have provided the only company, other sporadic visits from her lawyer and doctor.
Her isolation was punctuated in May 2009 by the bizarre visit of US citizen John Yettaw, who swam across the lake in what he said was a mission from God to save Suu Kyi from danger. That incident resulted in 18 months being added to the opposition leader’s sentence; Yettaw had arrived days before she was due to be released, and the junta saw it as the perfect ploy to keep her behind closed doors while it prepared for last week’s elections.
Many were concerned that the release of the pro-democracy leader will divert the scrutiny on Burma from the international arena. While the release of Suu Kyi was broadly met with joy, Zoya Phan, Burma Campaign UK’s international co-ordinator, said her release was “about public relations, not democratic reform.” The advocacy group’s statement also said: “The international community should use the release of Aung San Suu Kyi as an opportunity to apply pressure on the dictatorship to enter into genuine dialogue.” (Democratic Voice of Burma, Mizzima, Nov. 13)
Opposition candidates have given up hope of having much voice in Burma’s newly elected parliament. Several opposition parties have filed complaints of vote fraud and voter intimidation in the Nov. 7 elections. The military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) says it won more than 75% of the parliamentary seats contested. The USDP is allied with senior leader Than Shwe. (VOA, Nov. 10)
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