Suu Kyi honoured in Dublin during 'unforgettable day'


Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi tonight said her reception in Ireland had made for "one of the most unforgettable days of my life".

Several thousand well-wishers turned out tonight for the culmination of her seven-hour visit to Dublin when she formally signed the Roll of Honorary Freedom for the City of Dublin.

Hundreds of members of the exiled Burmese community were given pride of place in front of the stage at the Grand Canal Plaza beside the Bord Gais Energy Theatre where a concert had been held in her honour.

The crowd held up yellow banners wishing her a happy birthday, and traditional Burmese musicians played a number of songs for her. She is 68 tomorrow.

Having signed the roll, she made a speech short in duration but strong in sentiment. “I have been welcomed to Ireland as if I belonged to you,” she told the crowd. “You have stood by us in our times of troubles.”

She referred to the continuing difficulties in her homeland when she said: "These troubles are not yet all over, and I am confident that you will continue to stand with us."

To date, some 300 political prisoners remain in Burma despite a significant relaxation of restrictions that has allowed her to travel outside her country.

“Please believe that when I say that you are a part of my heart, I really mean it with my whole heart,” she told the crowd. Ms Suu Kyi was earlier led in procession from the Bord Gais Energy Theatre.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Cllr Andrew Montague, compared Ms Suu Kyi’s non-violent response to the Burmese military regime to Daniel O’Connell’s peaceful campaign that led to Catholic emancipation.

He said she could have taken the easy way out and gone into exile, but, instead, resolved never to abandon her people. “You have inspired us with your courage, moved us with your sacrifice, and you have touched us with your kindness,” he said.

He told her that so many Irish people had never given up on her and had campaigned for her release for years. Cllr Montague also thanked U2 in particular for using their platform to raise awareness of her detention.

He recalled how her son Kim accepted the freedom of Dublin on her behalf and expressed a desire that some day her mother would be able to accept the honour herself. The Mayor added: “That day is today.”

Earlier, there were emotional scenes too at the Bord Gais Energy Theatre where she was presented with the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award by U2's Bono in front of audience of artists and members of the Burmese community.

Ms Suu Kyi said the reception she had received showed how much people cared about Burma. “This has come as a surprise to me and a very moving one.”

Ms Suu Kyi’s short visit to Ireland was part of a four-country tour that started in Burma’s neighbour Thailand and then went on to Norway where she collected the Nobel Peace Prize which had been awarded to her 21 years after she first won it.

Her visit started with a meeting at Dublin Airport with the Tánaiste Eamon Gilmore, who told her of his wish to see the release of political prisoners and and pledged Irish support to her future efforts in Burma. He said her election to parliament alongside the military-backed government heralds a new era of peace, democracy and human rights.

“I am honoured on behalf of the Government to give a warm céad míle fáilte to Aung San Suu Kyi on the occasion of her historic visit to Ireland this afternoon,” Mr Gilmore said. “Ms Suu Kyi is enormously admired in this country and her visit here is something which we have long hoped to see.”

Three children - Sophia Kelly, Saw Tun and Laila Bgum - presented her with flowers before she left to visit President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.

During the Electric Burma concert at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Ms Suu Kyi told the audience the welcome she had received had been "totally unexpected". It reminded her of the duties she had taken on 24 years ago and of which she had never been relieved.

The welcome had shown her that she could never be alone, she said. People had asked her what it was like to leave Burma for the first time in 24 years. She had made a short trip to Thailand before her visit to Norway and then Dublin, she said, adding it had been "moving".

"By moving, I mean a stirring of the heart."

She had been given a new impetus for what she had been looking to do for the last 24 years. Ms Suu Kyi said she had never known how many people cared about her people and their cause until she had started out on her trip. "I have discovered how much more people care," she said. "This has come as a surprise to me and a very moving one."

She noted that the British often referred to the Burmese as "the Irish of the east" and said she felt 'very proud" tonight to be "your eastern counterpart".

She thanked organisations such as Amnesty, which had helped the people of Burma "to keep our small wick of self-respect alive," adding: "You have helped us to keep the light."

She hoped people would join the people of Burma in their dreams and "not take your eyes or your minds off us". She asked that people would help Burma to become the country "where hope and history merges" before leaving the stage to a standing ovation.

Bono, who introduced the Burmese dissident, told her it was one of the great ironies that by her confinement, by the fact she had given up her right to enjoy the world, the world had become her home.

He noted her itinerary in cities, including Oslo, over recent days and welcomed her to Dublin saying: "Fáilte abhaile. Welcome home."

Bob Geldof later sang a cover of Elvis Costello's What's So Funny 'Bout Peace, Love and Understanding?, having earlier quoted The Cure at Troy by Seamus Heaney. Other artists who performed at the Electric Burma concert included Declan O'Rourke, Damien Rice and rapper Lupe Fiasco.

One of the student leaders from the China's Tiananmen Square massacre, Wu’er Kaixi, addressed the audience. He said Ms Syu Kyi's freedom was compromised and temporary until all people deprived of their freedom - in Burma, China and elsewhere - could celebrate freedom on their own soil.

Salil Shetty, secretary general of Amnesty International, said there were still hundreds of prisoners still in Burmese prisons. He thanked the people of Ireland who had campaigned for Ms Suu Kyi's release and for the release of other prisoners.

Mr Shetty said he had always been touched that the people of Ireland, even in the most difficult times, still somehow managed to support people in faraway lands.

The U2 front man ended the Electric Burma concert with a rendition of Walk On and One, with Damien Rice accompanying on guitar. All the musicians then took to the stage and performed I Shall Be Released and Bob Marley's Get Up, Stand Up.

The Burmese activist is leaving Dublin Airport tonight to fly to England for a four-day visit.

She was under house arrest or in prison for 15 of the last 24 years until her release last November. The human rights campaigner is visiting Europe for the first time since 1988.

On Saturday she visited Norway to collect her Nobel Peace Prize, some 21 years after it was awarded. She said that when she heard she had won the prize in 1991, she knew the Burmese people were not going to be forgotten.

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