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Myanmar’s Suu Kyi returns to Britain after 24 years

By Agence France-Presse
Tuesday, June 19, 2012 7:13 EDT
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Aung San Suu Kyi in London via AFP
 
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Aung San Suu Kyi begins a bittersweet return to Britain Tuesday, during which she will be showered with honours and have an emotional family reunion after nearly a quarter of a century in Myanmar.

During her four-day visit the democracy icon will also meet members of Britain’s royal family and give a rare address to both Houses of Parliament.

Suu Kyi arrived in Britain overnight from Ireland, where she took to the stage at a gala concert with U2 singer Bono to receive a prize from rights group Amnesty International.

She was later given the freedom of the city of Dublin and crowds sang “Happy Birthday” as she was presented with a cake to mark her 67th birthday, which is on Tuesday.

In Britain for the latest leg of a 17-day tour of Europe — only her second visit abroad since she was released from 22 years of house arrest — Suu Kyi will begin with a panel debate at the London School of Economics on Tuesday.

Later in the day she will attend a family reunion in Oxford, where she studied at the prestigious university and lived for several years with the late Michael Aris, her English husband and father of her two sons.

The Chancellor of Oxford University, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, will formally welcome her on Tuesday.

On Wednesday, Oxford University — where she studied politics, philosophy and economics — will award her an honorary doctorate in civil law and she will also deliver a speech in the grand surroundings of the 17th century Sheldonian Theatre.

On Thursday, Suu Kyi is to address both houses of parliament in London, an honour only granted to high-profile foreign dignitaries such as US President Barack Obama.

She will also meet Prime Minister David Cameron and heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla.

Suu Kyi said at the weekend that she hoped the trip to Oxford in particular would not be “tinged with sadness.”

She spent nearly 20 years in the city as a housewife and mother, and when she left for Myanmar to care for her dying mother in 1988 she had no idea that it would be 24 years before she would return.

Suu Kyi became the leader of the country’s democracy movement against its military rulers, spending most of the following decades under house arrest.

She refused to leave the country, fearing that the junta would prevent her from returning and keep her in exile.

The painful result was that she only saw her husband and children a handful of times in the intervening years. Her husband died of cancer in 1999, having told her not to come back but to continue her struggle.

Her younger son Kim, now 35, still lives in Oxford and is expected to attend the reunion, but it was not clear if her older son Alexander, 39, who reportedly lives in a Buddhist retreat in Portland, Oregon, would be there.

An emotional Suu Kyi delivered her Nobel lecture at Oslo City Hall on Saturday, more than two decades after receiving the peace prize awarded to her in 1991.

In Ireland, Suu Kyi received Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award at a concert.

“To receive this award is to remind me that 24 years ago I took on duties from which I shall never be relieved but you have given me the strength to carry out,” Suu Kyi said.

After receiving a standing ovation at a Dublin theatre, she said she had been overwhelmed by the response of people to her cause on her journey around Europe.

“I have discovered how much more people care,” she said. “This has come as a surprise to me, and a very moving one.”

After being serenaded with “Happy Birthday”, she said the visit had been “one of the most unforgettable days of my life”.

Suu Kyi’s tour began in Switzerland and will take her on to France.

It has been clouded by continued violence in western Myanmar where dozens of people have been killed and more than 30,000 people displaced by clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.

Agence France-Presse
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