Vacationing Myanmar democracy leader draws crowds

AP News
Posted: Jul 05, 2011 2:02 PM
Vacationing Myanmar democracy leader draws crowds

Myanmar's democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi was supposed to be on a private tour of the temple city of Bagan, but she drew crowds Tuesday in a test of the government's tolerance after it warned her against political appearances.

Suu Kyi, in her first trip out of the main city of Yangon since she was released from house arrest in November, was visiting the ancient city with her youngest son.

"I am very happy. This is my first vacation with my son in twenty years," Suu Kyi told reporters after praying at one of Bagan's famous temples. "I never have enough sleep at home but now I want to sleep all the time. I have time to rest."

However, she and son Kim were mobbed by a small crowd of local residents and shadowed by dozens of plainclothes police during the second day of her visit.

The police made no moves to break up the gatherings.

Suu Kyi has said she will soon travel around the country to meet her political supporters, drawing a warning in the state-controlled press that she could cause chaos.

Suu Kyi drew large crowds when she last made a trip to the countryside in 2003, and her popularity badly rattled the then-military government. Supporters of the junta ambushed her entourage as it toured northern Myanmar, killing several of her followers. She escaped but was detained. There were suspicions that the attack was organized by the army, which denied involvement.

Suu Kyi often faced problems in the past when she traveled outside Yangon _ where she lives and her National League for Democracy is headquartered _ with the government stopping her motorcades.

Although her reception in Bagan was relatively modest, with perhaps 100 to 200 supporters and the curious turning out to see her at various stops, the area is loosely populated and publicity over Suu Kyi's plans has been low-key.

In Washington, State Department spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said Tuesday that the U.S. hopes that Suu Kyi's ability to travel and meet with supporters after her freedom from house arrest is a "harbinger of better things" in Myanmar.