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Thousands greet Suu Kyi on Myanmar campaign trail

Thousands greet Suu Kyi on Myanmar campaign trail

Huge crowds hailed Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi as she hit the campaign trail on Sunday ahead of by-elections seen as a key test of the regime's commitment to reform.

Sunday 29 January 2012, 11:13PM

Huge crowds hailed Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.  Photo by AFP

Huge crowds hailed Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. Photo by AFP

Tens of thousands flocked to get a glimpse of the Nobel Peace Prize winner in the coastal district of Dawei, as she made her first political trip outside Yangon since declaring she would stand for office in the April 1 polls.

"People need to watch to make sure the coming by-elections are free and fair. There should be no vote buying and no threats to get votes," she told throngs of jubilant supporters, who responded with loud cheers at the end of her one-day visit.

Surveying the crowd packed along a main road in the southern town, Suu Kyi added that she "chose the right place" to kick off her campaign tour.

The democracy icon's decision to stand for a seat in parliament is the latest sign of dramatic change sweeping through the country formerly known as Burma after the end of nearly half a century of outright military rule.

A new government dominated by former generals came to power last year following November 2010 elections that were marred by cheating and the absence of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

The regime has since surprised observers with a series of reforms, including welcoming the NLD back into the political mainstream, ceasefire deals with ethnic minority rebels and the release of hundreds of political prisoners.

Western nations are now considering easing sanctions, further raising hopes of an end to decades of isolation and poverty, but controversy surrounding the 2010 vote means the upcoming by-elections will be heavily scrutinised.

The NLD is running for all 48 seats up for grabs in the polls and Suu Kyi is standing in a rural constituency near Yangon. Sunday's visit was in support of Aung Soe, the party's candidate in a local township.

"If we move in the right direction our country will have many opportunities. We are eager to seize them," she said in a speech in Dawei earlier.

"For the security of the people, the rule of law is very important...We hope to give back to the people by working for more stability in people's lives."

The 66-year-old, known here as "The Lady", also spoke about democratic principles and job creation for educated young people.

Local people brought flowers and gifts and held up their children to see the NLD leader, who spent much of the past two decades in detention, with banners proclaiming "You are our heart".

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Traffic clogged the roads as Suu Kyi's convoy, trailed by a large number of cars and motorbikes, travelled around the district through villages and Aung Soe's constituency.

Suu Kyi's outing took her to the area set to be transformed by a huge industrial site and strategic deep sea port, the Dawei Development Project.

The Thai-led, multi-billion-dollar development has sparked fears of a potential influx of "dirty" industry and the displacement of thousands.

But in another sign of burgeoning reform, the government cancelled a proposed coal-fired power plant at the site this month citing "environmental problems".

The April polls, held to fill places vacated by those elected in 2010 who have since become ministers and deputy ministers in the government, will be the first time Suu Kyi has been able to directly participate in a Myanmar vote.

Her involvement may boost the legislature's credibility, but the seats available are not enough to threaten a majority held by the army-backed ruling party.

Suu Kyi was released from house arrest days after the 2010 election and has seen increasingly warm relations with the new regime, with some suggesting she could even take a role in government if elected to parliament.

Her first political trip since she being freed happened last year when Suu Kyi visited the Bago region north of Yangon, which passed off peacefully.

Security had been a concern as Suu Kyi's convoy was attacked in 2003, in an ambush possibly organised by a junta frightened of her popularity.

The NLD won an election in 1990 by a landslide while Suu Kyi remained under house arrest, but the ruling generals ignored the result.

The party was stripped of its legal status after boycotting the 2010 elections, saying the rules were unfair.


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