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Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi announced in Britain on Tuesday that she was prepared to take the helm as the leader of her people, the strongest signal yet she saw herself as someone who could lead her country to democracy one day.
Myanmar's military rulers have freed the Oxford-educated daughter of Myanmar's assassinated independence hero from house arrest, ushering in an era of hope for change and allowing her to travel abroad for the first time in decades.
Asked by the BBC if she was prepared to lead her people, given the prospect of national elections in 2015, she replied: “If I can lead them in the right way, yes.”
Now a Nobel peace laureate and an icon of non-violent political resistance, Suu Kyi, 67, left her two sons and husband in Britain in 1988 to take up the fight for democracy in Myanmar as the military crushed pro-democracy protests and seized power.
She languished under house arrest for much of the next two decades, unable to spend time with her sons or be with her husband before he died of cancer in 1999.
Suu Kyi has been greeted as a hero on her visit in Britain as part of a broader European tour.
Given star treatment on her 67th birthday on Tuesday, she received a standing ovation when she addressed a packed auditorium at the London School of Economics at the start of her emotional comeback to Britain.
“It's all of you and people like you that have given me the strength to continue,” she said, to whoops and cheers from the audience. “And I suppose I do have a stubborn streak in me.”
She then travelled to the city of Oxford, where she read politics, philosophy and economics in the 1960s and lived for many years with her late husband, academic Michael Aris, and her two sons: Kim, now 35, and Alexander, now 39.
“Welcome back! Welcome back!” chanted a crowd of about 200 activists and local residents who gathered in central Oxford for a glimpse of Suu Kyi as her motorcade glided through the medieval alleys of Britain's oldest university town.
Peter Khin Tun, 54, a doctor who fled Myanmar 18 years ago, said: “We are very proud of her. I feel very close to her. That's why I came here. She is true to herself. Nowadays it's very rare to see someone with a sincere heart.”
While in Oxford, Suu Kyi was expected to meet her sons and other family members, some of whom she had never met, in a private reunion - a moment certain to be both joyful and painful for a woman who refused to leave Myanmar for decades for fear that its military leaders would not let her back in.
“I missed them (her sons), and they missed me, but as I said, when I looked at the lives of my colleagues it was much worse,” she told Britain's Sky News.
“I don't justify it, I think that everybody must accept responsibility for what they do. I accept responsibility for what I did and what I am, and so must my sons.”
On Wednesday, she was due to be presented with an honorary degree by Oxford University and to address the Oxford Union debating society. On Thursday she is due back in London to address both houses of Britain's parliament, a rare honour.
She bowed gracefully as activists shouted “Happy Birthday” and unfurled banners saying “Free all political prisoners”.
“You are our leader! You will restore democracy!” shouted one activist, Htein Lin, his T-shirt bearing a photo of Suu Kyi.
Suu Kyi is the daughter of Aung San, the assassinated hero of Myanmar's struggle for independence from British rule.
In London, Suu Kyi spoke about the importance of the rule of law in Myanmar, which was under military control for 49 years but in recent months has surprised the world with a series of democratic reforms including parliamentary polls.
“The reason why I've emphasised the rule of law so much in my political work is because this is what we all need if we are to really proceed towards democracy,” said Suu Kyi, who was sworn into Myanmar's parliament last month.
“Unless people see that justice is done and seen to be done, we cannot believe in genuine reform.
The military seized power in 1988 as troops crushed pro-democracy protests. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party won a 1990 general election, but the generals refused to step down.
She said in her London speech that she was confident she could work with the military rulers to amend the constitution.
“Do we think it can be amended? Yes, we think so, because we think that it's possible to work together with the military to make them understand why we think that this constitution will not move us (the country) in a positive direction,” she said. - Reuters