Monday 7 March 2011

The woman who has become the face of Burma's democracy movement

Aung San Suu Kyi

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

The 65-year-old has spent most of the last 20 years in some form of detention because of her efforts to bring democracy to military-ruled Burma.

In 1991, a year after her National League for Democracy won an overwhelming victory in an election the junta later nullified, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. The committee chairman, Francis Sejested, called her "an outstanding example of the power of the powerless".

She was sidelined for Burma's first elections in two decades on 7 November 2010 but released from house arrest six days later.

Thousands of supporters gathered to hear her issue a call for Burmese people to work together for change. Political pedigree.  Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the country's independence hero, General Aung San.

Read more and see the video at the end of the article

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.

Aung San Suu Kyi (centre) with her parents and two brothers in an image from 1947

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, academic Michael Aris.

After stints of living and working in Japan and Bhutan, she settled in the UK to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim.  But Burma was never far from her thoughts.

When she arrived back in Rangoon in 1988 - 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 the 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.

House arrest

Ms Suu Kyi remained under house arrest in Rangoon for six years, until she was released in July 1995.

Aung San Suu Kyi

  • 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
  • November 2010: Released after her latest term of detention expires


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