Saturday, November 13, 2010

Aung San Suu Kyi - an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression

Like the South African leader Nelson Mandela, Aung San Suu Kyi has become an international symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression.

For the Burmese people, Ms Suu Kyi, 64, represents their best and perhaps sole hope that one day there will be an end to the country's military repression.
As a pro-democracy campaigner and leader of the opposition National League for Democracy party (NLD), she has spent more than 11 of the past 19 years in some form of detention under Burma's military regime.
In 1991 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her efforts to bring democracy to Burma.
At the presentation, the Chairman of the Nobel Peace Prize Committee, Francis Sejested, called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless".
House arrest
After a period of time overseas, Aung San Suu Kyi went back to Burma in 1988.
Soon after she returned, she was put under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.
She was again put under house arrest in September 2000, when she tried to travel to the city of Mandalay in defiance of travel restrictions.
She was released unconditionally in May 2002, but just over a year later she was put in prison following a clash between her supporters and a government-backed mob.
Following a gynaecological operation in September 2003, she was allowed to return home - but again under effective house arrest.
In summer 2007, there were widespread protests in Burma over fuel prices, followed by anti-government demonstrations led by Buddhist monks, which were violently ended by the government.
Ms Suu Kyi appeared outside her home to meet some of the monks in September that year, her first public appearance since 2003.
In May 2009, as the latest period of detention was due to expire, the NLD appealed to the government to release her, saying she was suffering from low blood pressure and dehydration, but the appeal was rejected.
Shortly after, a US national was arrested for swimming across a lake and breaking into her compound.
Then, a few days later, Ms Suu Kyi was herself arrested and charged with breaching the conditions of her detention, although the man had apparently not been invited to visit.
After a trial, she was convicted and sentenced to a further 18 months of house arrest.
Critics say the arrest and continued detention were designed to keep her away from the public eye until elections scheduled to take place in 2010.
The sentence was roundly condemned by the international community.
Diplomatic visits
During periods of confinement, Ms Suu Kyi has busied herself studying and exercising.
She has meditated, worked on her French and Japanese language skills, and relaxed by playing Bach on the piano.
In more recent years, she has also been able to meet other NLD officials, and selected visiting diplomats like the United Nations special envoy Razali Ismail.
But during her early years of detention, Ms Suu Kyi was often in solitary confinement - and was not even allowed to see her two sons or her husband, British academic Michael Aris, who died of cancer in March 1999.
When her husband was on his deathbed, the military authorities offered to allow her to travel to the UK to see him, but she felt compelled to refuse for fear she would not be allowed back into the country.
Ms Suu Kyi has often said that detention has made her even more resolute to dedicate the rest of her life to represent the average Burmese citizen.
The UN special envoy Razali Ismail has said privately that she is one of the most impressive people he has ever met.
Overseas life
Much of Ms Suu Kyi's appeal within Burma lies in the fact she is the daughter of the country's independence hero, General Aung San.

He was assassinated during the transition period in July 1947, just six months before independence.
Aung San Suu Kyi was only two years old at the time.
In 1960 she went to India with her mother Daw Khin Kyi, who had been appointed Burma's ambassador to Delhi.
Four years later she went to Oxford University in the UK, where she studied philosophy, politics and economics. There she met her future husband.
After stints of living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled down to be an English don's housewife and raise their two children, Alexander and Kim.
But Burma was never far away from her thoughts.
When she arrived back in Rangoon in 1988 - initially to look after her critically ill mother - Burma was in the midst of major political upheaval.
Thousands of students, office workers and monks took to the streets demanding democratic reform.
"I could not, as my father's daughter remain indifferent to all that was going on," she said in a speech in Rangoon on 26 August 1988.
Ms Suu Kyi was soon propelled into leading the revolt against then-dictator General Ne Win.
Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of US civil rights leader Martin Luther King and India's Mahatma Gandhi, she organised rallies and travelled around the country, calling for peaceful democratic reform and free elections.
But the demonstrations were brutally suppressed by the army, who seized power in a coup on 18 September 1988.
The military government called national elections in May 1990.
Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD convincingly won the polls, despite the fact that she herself was under house arrest and disqualified from standing.
But the junta refused to hand over control, and has remained in power ever since.
1989: Put under house arrest as Burma junta declares martial law
1990: NLD wins election; military disregards result
1991: Wins Nobel Peace Prize
1995: Released from house arrest, but movements restricted
2000-02: Second period of house arrest
May 2003: Detained after clash between NLD and junta forces
Sep 2003: Allowed home after medical treatment, but under effective house arrest
May 2007: House arrest is extended for another year
Sept 2007: First public appearance since 2003, greeting protesting Buddhist monks
May 2008: House arrest extended for another year
May 2009: Charged with breaking detention rules after an American swims to her compound
August 2009: Sentenced to 18 months further house arrest

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