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Burma | Aung San Suu Kyi

Myanmar’s government released pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi after more than seven years of house arrest, offering a glimmer of hope for opposition groups that have been trying to unseat the country’s harsh military regime for decades.

Aung San Suu Kyi (born 19 June 1945) is a Burmese opposition politician and a former General Secretary of the National League for Democracy. In the 1990 general election, Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won 59% of the national votes and 81% (392 of 485) of the seats in Parliament.

She had, however, already been detained under house arrest before the elections. She remained under house arrest in Burma for almost 15 of the 21 years from July 20, 1989 until her release on 13 November 2010.

Primarily in response to her detention, Aung San Suu Kyi received the Rafto Prize and the Sakharov Prize for Freedom of Thought in 1990 and the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

In 1992 she was awarded the Jawaharlal Nehru Award for International Understanding by the government of India and the International Simón Bolívar Prize from the government of Venezuela. In 2007, the Government of Canada made her an honorary citizen of that country, one of only five people ever to receive the honour. Aung San Suu Kyi is the third child and only daughter of Aung San, considered to be the father of modern-day Burma.

Bogyoke (General) Aung San was the father of Nobel Peace laureate and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi

Ms. Suu Kyi’s release isn’t likely to trigger major political change in Myanmar, an impoverished but strategically important Southeast Asian nation with extensive natural gas reserves between China and India. Despite being one of the world’s most famous political prisoners, Ms. Suu Kyi’s position has weakened considerably in recent years as Myanmar’s ruling junta has fortified its financial and military strength through expanded ties with China and other Asian allies.

Flag of National League for Democracy

Flag of National League for Democracy

But freedom from house arrest gives the 65-year-old Nobel laureate at least one more shot at revitalizing the country’s demoralized and divided opposition before she loses the energy to do so. It also could lead to renewed international pressure on Myanmar to contemplate reforms aimed at repairing its tattered relations with the Western world, including steps to release other political prisoners.

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