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Myanmar Frees Suu Kyi From House Arrest

Freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, left, waves at her cheering supporters from the gate of her house.
This was an image the world had been waiting for since 2003.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi greeted supporters at the gate of her lakeside compound in Yangon after seven years of forced seclusion.

Her house arrest term expired on November 13, and thousands of supporters had been waiting for her release outside her residence, waving photographs of the 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate.

Wearing a traditional jacket and a flower in her hair, a smiling Suu Kyi called for unity in the country, ruled since 1962 by an authoritarian military junta. She then thanked her supporters and invited them to hear her speak on November 14 at the headquarters of her political party, the National League for Democracy.

Suu Kyi, who has been jailed or under house arrest for more than 15 of the last 21 years, symbolizes the struggle for democracy in the Southeast Asian state.

Her release follows a November 7 election that gave the pro-military party a sweeping victory and that Western powers have denounced as a fraud. Her party boycotted the poll, saying the rules were unfair.

The previous elections in 1990 were won overwhelmingly by her party, but the military refused to hand over power.

Suu Kyi was last placed under house arrest in 2003 after her motorcade was ambushed in northern Myanmar by a government-backed mob. The military junta extended her house arrest last year, accusing her of violating the terms of her detention by allowing an American intruder to stay at her home for two nights.

International Reaction

Her release was immediately welcomed by politicians and rights groups around the world.

British Prime Minister David Cameron said it was long overdue, and French President Nicolas Sarkozy warned Myanmar against any restrictions on Suu Kyi's freedom of movement and expression.

U.S. President Barack Obama hailed Suu Kyi's release, calling her a "hero" and an inspiration to the world. European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso called for the "unrestricted freedom" of Suu Kyi and urged the military junta to free all of Myanmar's other political prisoners.

The United Nations' human rights chief, Navi Pillay, described the release as a positive signal from authorities in Mynmar but said she was "extremely disappointed" that Suu Kyi was not freed before the November 7 elections.

The rights group Amnesty International also pointed out that an estimated 2,200 political prisoners remain in detention in Myanmar.

Suu Kyi is widely expected to challenge this month's election results. A spokesman for her party said she planned to help probe allegations of voting fraud.

compiled from agency reports