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Freed Suu Kyi Calls For Unity Among Myanmar's Splintered Opposition

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon on November 13.

Aung San Suu Kyi speaks with supporters after her release from house arrest in Yangon on November 13.

Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has made her first major political speech since being freed on November 13 from seven years of house arrest.

The Nobel Peace Prize-winner called for freedom of speech in army-ruled Myanmar and urged thousands of her supporters to stand up for their rights.

Speaking at a press conference in Yangon today, she reiterated that she would "talk to anyone who is willing to work for the good of the country and democracy" -- and that "national reconciliation means recognizing that there are differences."

She also indicated she might urge the West to end sanctions against the military regime, saying that "if the people really want sanctions lifted with sound reasons, we will have to do it."

'Let's Work Together'

Suu Kyi has spent 15 of the past 21 years either under house arrest or in prison. But she told a vast crowd of supporters today that she was not angry with the military junta and that she had been treated well in captivity.

Speaking to a crowd estimated at more than 10,000 outside the headquarters of her National League for Democracy party, Suu Kyi reached out to Myanmar's splintered opposition forces and urged them to unite, saying that "if we work together we will reach our goal."

"I'm so glad and encouraged to see you all," she added. "I know what people want. I know what you want here as well."

Suu Kyi's speech suggested that her years of isolation have not weakened her defiant stance against military rule. She told the crowd she had stayed in touch with political developments during her years of detention by listening to the radio.

She made references to the November 7 parliamentary elections in Myanmar -- a vote that was condemned by rights groups and Western countries as a sham that had been rigged to prolong military rule.

But Suu Kyi said she would wait to read a report on the elections that was compiled by her party before she would comment on the results.

A spokesman for her party said Suu Kyi planned to return to the headquarters building on the morning of November 15 to start work on party affairs.

More To Be Done

Analysts say it is unlikely that Myanmar's military regime will open a political dialogue with Suu Kyi and her party, which won elections in 1990 by a landslide but was blocked from assuming power.

Some experts warn that Suu Kyi is under enormous pressure and may struggle to live up to the enormous expectations of supporters who are eager for democratic change after almost 50 years of military rule.

World leaders have welcomed her release, with U.S. President Barack Obama calling her "a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights" in a statement released late on November 13.

India's foreign minister hailed the move as a sign of "a more inclusive approach to political change."

India has been criticized in the past for ignoring the human rights abuses of its southeastern neighbor.

Although governments from around the world have welcomed Suu Kyi's release, many have been quick to point out that more needs to be done for sanctions to be lifted -- including the release of more than 2,000 other political prisoners from the jails of Myanmar.

compiled from agency reports