THE BLOG

Burma's Aung San Suu Kyi Freed & Given Amnesty

Burma's imprisoned political hero Aung San Suu Kyi has been freed by the military government and given an amnesty.

Thousands of supporters watched as Suu Kyi appeared on the balcony of her aging lakeside villa to address them at dusk in Rangoon on Saturday. Their shouting drowned her out.

The official Burma state radio and television quoted Police Chief Brig. Gen. Khin Yi as saying said she had been given an amnesty "without grudge," according to Xinhua, the Chinese news agency.

Just seeing their leader, who normally could only meet with one or two people at a time cleared by military authorities, was a joyful event. The exile-based Irrawaddy Website scrolled a headline saying: Aung San Suu Kyi Freed At Last.

Although coverage of the release was limited by the military regime which calls the nation Myanmar, supporters could be heard cheering Suu Kyi. She spoke some words that could not be heard except by those close up because the fragile, 65-year-old leader had no megaphone let alone a public address system. She promised to talk more about her release on Sunday. A Twitter account may be next.

It was unclear how much freedom of movement and speech she would have. Restrictions on her National League for Democacy forced it to disband. The party won an overwhelmingly victory in elections in 1990, but has been under some form of arrest for at least 15 of the past 21 years.

Pundits immediately began engaging in banter on how much force Suu Kyi would have and whether the "political landscape" had changed so much her influence might be minimized.

Based on her history it was clear she would push her campaign for democracy to the limit and even beyond. She has had no outlet other than meditation.

Retired South African Archbishop Desmond Tutu, somewhat of a pint-sized troublemaker himself and a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate, has marveled at her courage in taking on a brutal dictatorship. Suu Kyi was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

As usual the government initially released no information, and with previous release promises not kept, the crowd started to become angry overnight Friday. When barricades were removed the following evening, cries of joy were heard over international radio broadcasts.

The military and political rivals have made her life seem like a victim of Stalin's labor camps but in isolation. It made many democracy supporters disappear around the world, sometimes literally, sometimes figuratively. Then there were those too important to kill.

Her father, Aung San, was the founder of modern Burma, but he was assassinated in 1947 by political rivals two years after she was born. Suu Kyi had moved to Britain to study but returned to attend to her dying mother in 1988 and was present when riots broke out.

Democracy supporters immediately drafted her to lead their campaign.

Although news reports talk of her living in a lakeside village the BBC reported that it was a dilapidated structure overgrown with vines, and so damp that the piano she had loved to play had become warped. She had few visitors, and could listen to the radio and get a couple of magazines a week, she was not allowed to see her family often.

When her husband, Oxford-based Asian scholar Michael Aris, was dying in Britain he was not allowed to come to Burma to see her. Suu Kyi declined an offer to visit him because she feared she would not be allowed to return.

Outside Burma political leaders like French President Sarkozy and organizations like Amnesty International called on Burma military leaders to guarantee her security. Some of her party members were killed in 2003 when thugs attacked her motorcade. Amnesty Secretary General Salil Shetty said the release of Suu Kyi was welcome but the government should release more than 2,200 political prisoners it also holds.