Bago: Aung San Suu Kyi called for unity in Myanmar as she was feted by thousands of supporters on Sunday during her first political trip outside her home city since being released from house arrest.
Suu Kyi, who was released from seven straight years of detention in November just days after a controversial election, defied a government security warning with a visit to the Bago region north of Yangon, in a key test of her freedom.
Police tried to clear people off roads as hundreds lined the streets to greet the 66-year-old democracy icon as she travelled between towns, many of them shouting and waving banners saying: “We love Mother Suu!”
After visiting a local pagoda, she made similar speeches at the openings of two libraries, the first to about 600 people in Tha Nat Pin and the second to about 2,000 in nearby Bago town, an AFP reporter witnessed.
“We can develop this country only when we all work together,” Suu Kyi told the crowds in her first address.
“Unity is a strength, unity is needed everywhere and it is needed especially in our country.”
She thanked her followers for their support, asking them to keep providing it. She said she had always “tried her best” since she entered politics more than 20 years ago, and would “continue as much as I can”.
Suu Kyi’s call for unity could be taken as a possible goodwill gesture towards her jailers, given the sensitive nature of a political trip.
The military-backed government warned her in June that such a tour could spark chaos and riots, although her one-day excursion, which included a visit to another temple before she returned home, appeared to pass peacefully.
convoy of about 30 cars left Yangon early in the morning, also carrying members of her National League for Democracy (NLD), journalists and diplomats.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner told AFP as she embarked on the trip that she was reliant “on the support of the people” , which appeared to be much in evidence in Bago.
“I’m very happy to see her. We all are,” said Win Win Myint, a 23-year-old student. “I haven’t see her in person before.”
Security is a concern as Suu Kyi’s convoy was attacked in 2003 during a political trip, in an ambush apparently organised by a junta frightened by her popularity.
“Our party members will take care of her security and also the authorities will help us,” Nyan Win, an NLD spokesman, told AFP on Saturday.
He earlier described Sunday’s trip as “political” and said she would try to venture outside Yangon again.
After the government warned against a tour in June, Suu Kyi tested her freedom the following month by spending a few days at an ancient temple city in central Myanmar, although politics were not on the agenda.
The democracy champion has spent much of the last two decades in detention, and some observers believe the government would be quick to restrict her freedom again if she were perceived to threaten its rule.
But there have been signs of a thaw in relations between the government and Suu Kyi recently, with the Nobel laureate holding a second round of talks with labour minister Aung Kyi on Friday.
A joint statement released following the discussions said both sides would work together for “stability” and democratic development.
Also on Friday, the government pledged to continue the dialogue in its first media briefing in the capital Naypyidaw since taking power.
Initial talks in July came just days after the United States called for “concrete” progress towards democracy.
Myanmar is subject to economic sanctions by the US and other western nations who are calling for democratic and human rights reforms.
Last year’s poll was won by the military’s political proxies and was marred by widespread complaints of cheating and intimidation.
The NLD, which won an election in 1990 but was never allowed to take power by the junta, boycotted 2010’s vote because of rules seemingly designed to exclude Suu Kyi and was stripped of its recognition as a political party as a result.