Thousands welcome Suu Kyi on Dublin visit


BURMESE PRO-DEMOCRACY leader Aung San Suu Kyi last night said in Dublin that her reception in Ireland had made for “one of the most unforgettable days of my life”.

Several thousand well-wishers turned out for the culmination of her half-day visit to the capital when she formally signed the Roll of Honorary Freedom of the City of Dublin in Grand Canal Square.

Hundreds of members of the exiled Burmese community were given pride of place in front of the stage beside the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre where a concert had earlier taken place in her honour. The crowd held up yellow Amnesty International banners wishing her a happy birthday. She is 67 today.

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 that “these troubles are not yet all over and I am confident that you will continue to stand with us”.

Some 300 political prisoners remain in Burma despite a significant relaxation of restrictions which have allowed her to travel outside her country for the first time in decades.

“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.

She arrived at Dublin airport yesterday afternoon and was welcomed by the Tánaiste, Eamon Gilmore. She was received shortly afterwards by President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin. Later, she received an honorary degree from Trinity College.

After attending the Electric Burma concert in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre, Ms Suu Kyi was led in procession from the theatre to Grand Canal Square which was open to the public.

Addressing the crowd, 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 which led to Catholic emancipation.

She could have taken the easy way out and gone into exile, but instead resolved never to abandon her people, the Lord Mayor said.

“You have inspired us with your courage, moved us with your sacrifice and you have touched us with your kindness.”

He told her that so many Irish people had never given up on her and had campaigned for her release for years.

There were emotional scenes too in the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre where she was presented with the Amnesty International Ambassador of Conscience Award by U2 singer Bono in front of an audience of artists, human rights activists and members of the Burmese community.

Ms Suu Kyi’s short visit to Ireland – she departed last night – was part of a four-country tour which started in Burma’s neighbouring country, Thailand.

She then went on to Norway where she collected the Nobel Peace Prize, which had been awarded to her 21 years ago.

Speaking last night, she said the reception she had received showed how much people around the world cared about Burma. “This has come as a surprise to me and a very moving one,” she said.

At Dublin airport, Mr Gilmore told her of his wish to see the release of political prisoners and and pledged Irish support to her future efforts in Burma.

She then travelled to Áras an Uachtaráin to meet President Higgins.

She travelled on to Britain late last night for the last leg of her tour, which includes a visit to Oxford where she studied and later settled with her husband, the late Dr Michael Aris.