Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, the opposition activist and leader of the National League for Democracy (NLD) party in Burma, kicked off her first trip to the U.S. since being released from house arrest by meeting with political and diplomatic leaders in the nation's capital.
Tuesday, the pro-democracy leader also known as "The Lady," met with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and gave a speech at the United States Institute of Peace hosted by the Asia Society.
Wednesday, Suu Kyi continued her high-level meetings with a visit to Capitol Hill in the morning where she was received by Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid, D-Nev., and Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell, R-Ky.
Suu Kyi will finally accept the Congressional Gold Medal on Wednesday, four years after it was awarded to her for her continuous work to bring Burma into the democratic fold.
In a surprise announcement Wednesday afternoon, the White House also confirmed Suu Kyi would be meeting with President Barack Obama tonight in the Oval Office.
Aung San Suu Kyi has been a leader on the global stage since her return to Burma from living in England and the U.S. in 1988. Born to prestigious parents - her father founded the modern Burmese army and her mother was the ambassador to India and Nepal - Suu Kyi seemed destined for a political life.
After working for the United Nations in New York and living with her American husband Dr. Michael Aris in Bhutan, she moved back in the late 1980s and spoke out for democracy amid violent army suppression of a nascent democratic movement.
She founded the NLD in 1989 but was put under house arrest the following year by the military junta, who regained power after General Ne Win resigned and a popular uprising was stifled. The widespread slaughter of democracy advocates came to be known as the 8888 Uprising (August 8, 1988).
In 1990, after the NLD won 59 percent of the votes in national elections, the military junta refused to hand over power to the party. In 1995, she was released from house arrest only to be re-arrested in 2000. Of the last 20 years, she has spent 15 locked in her own home in Rangoon.
In November 2010, Suu Kyi was released from house arrest and the military-backed government began slowly allowing for small democratic reforms. Political prisoners and prisoners of conscience have been released and the NLD was allowed to stand in the first national by-elections in twenty years.
The party won 43 of the 44 seats they contested, including one in which Suu Kyi ran herself. Only 46 seats were open in the by-elections.
This year, she stepped outside of her country for the first time since her return in 1988. Her first trip was to Oslo to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won in 1990. This week marks her first trip to the United States since then.
In her meetings with Secretary Clinton, who visited Suu Kyi in Burma after her release from house arrest earlier this year, she spoke about goals met and work that still needs to be done, specifically on remaining links with North Korea and their nuclear program.
Speaking yesterday at USIP, Suu Kyi said she was heartened by the Obama's administration's continued desire to engage with Burma.
"The United States, from the beginning, stood firmly by the forces of democracy and for this I would like to thank all of you," Suu Kyi said Tuesday.
She also urged continued easing of sanctions on Burma while also highlighting the need to push the government further on political prisoner detention, relations with ethnic minorities and abuse of emergency powers.
Suu Kyi will spend a total of 17 days in the United States. After Washington, D.C., she will also visit California, New York and Fort Wayne, Indiana, home to one of the country's largest Burmese-American communities.
Her trip will coincide with that of Burmese president Thein Sein, who will visit New York next week to attend the United Nations General Assembly. He will also give remarks at the Asia Society in New York during his trip.
by RTT Staff Writer
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