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Suu Kyi visits Europe for first time in 24 years

Associated Press
Jun 13, 2012 at 11:07pm IST

Geneva: Twenty-four years ago Aung San Suu Kyi left Europe for what was then a military-controlled nation called Burma. She returned on Wednesday as the icon of Myanmar's democracy movement to a continent eager to hear from her whether the country's recent reforms truly spell the end of its cruel dictatorship.

The trip is seen as a sign of gratitude to those governments and organisations that supported Suu Kyi's peaceful struggle against Myanmar's generals over more than two decades, 15 years of which she spent under house arrest.

"Each country will be different. I will know how backward (Myanmar) is when I reach the other countries," Suu Kyi told reporters at Yangon airport as she headed to catch her flight.

Suu Kyi visits Europe for first time in 24 years

The greatest attention is likely to be paid to her stopover in the UK next week. Suu Kyi left her husband Michael Aris and their 2 sons here in 1988.

In Geneva, her first stop, Suu Kyi will address the annual meeting of the UN's International Labour Organisation, whose campaign against slavery and child labour in Myanmar drew constant attention to the junta's abusive exploitation of its people.

From Switzerland, Suu Kyi flies to Oslo, where on Saturday she will make a belated acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize that was awarded to her 21 years earlier while she was detained by the military after leading a pro-democracy party to victory in Myanmar's 1990 elections.

The prize catapulted her struggle against Myanmar's dictatorship into wider public consciousness and put Suu Kyi among the ranks of Soviet President Mikhail S Gorbachev, South Africa's anti-apartheid leader Nelson Mandela and the Dalai Lama.

Norway is also home to the Democratic Voice of Burma, an opposition broadcaster that has received generous funding from the Norwegian government and others.

Also on her itinerary are France and Ireland, where she will be feted by pop band U2 and its activist frontman Bono at a concert hosted by the human rights group Amnesty International.

The greatest attention is likely to be paid to her stopover in Britain next week. Suu Kyi studied and lived in Britain for years, and it is in Myanmar's former colonial power she left behind husband Michael Aris and their two sons, Alexander and Kim, when she traveled to her homeland in 1988 to nurse her ailing mother.

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