Suu Kyi ‘amazed’ by Irish welcome

As she languished under house arrest for almost 15 of the last 21 years, Burmese political leader, Aung San Suu Kyi could scarcely have dreamed of days and foreign lands where her cause would be championed.

Suu Kyi ‘amazed’ by Irish welcome

Twelve years after she was awarded the Freedom of Dublin City in absentia, such a dream turned to reality last night when the human rights defender finally picked up the honour in person.

It also saw the fulfilment of the hope expressed by her son, Kim in 2000 that one day his mother could travel to Ireland to accept the award.

“This will be one of the unforgettable days of my life,” said Ms Suu Kyi at a ceremony in Grand Canal Dock hosted by Dublin City Council.

Speaking during a fleeting six-hour visit as part of a whistle-stop tour of Europe — her first in over two decades — she thanked the Irish nation for standing by the Burmese people in their “time of trouble”. However, she warned that their fight for democracy was “not yet all over”.

The sheer delight of the Burmese community living in Ireland at seeing their political leader among them was one of the most touching scenes of the visit which also included a courtesy call to President Michael D Higgins at Áras an Uachtaráin.

Together with several thousand locals, they joined in a proud and heartfelt version of ‘Happy Birthday’, led by singer Eleanor McEvoy, to mark Ms Suu Kyi’s 67th birthday today.

The Lord Mayor of Dublin, Andrew Montague, said it was a fantastic day for the city to host the 1991 Nobel Peace Laureate. He also paid tribute to the work of Amnesty International and Burma Action Group in highlighting Ms Suu Kyi’s long years of detention over the past few decades.

“We never knew during the years if she would actually make it here. She could have taken her freedom but insisted on staying with her people,” said Mr Montague.

Ms Suu Kyi was also the guest of honour at a concert entitled Electric Burma at the Bord Gáis Energy Theatre featuring a range of stars including Bono, Bob Geldof, and Damien Rice, as well as actors Saoirse Ronan, Vanessa Redgrave, and Jack Gleeson.

Ms Suu Kyi was given a standing ovation by the 2,200 capacity audience as she arrived on stage to accept Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience award, presented by Bono.

The U2 singer said Ireland was humbled by her presence and joked she would hold “our hand for the Italy game”. Turning more serious, he remarked: “There is no one on this island who doesn’t understand how costly the word ‘freedom’ is.”

He highlighted the great irony of how Ms Suu Kyi’s confinement had made the world her home.

U2 had dedicated their song ‘Walk On’ to the Burmese leader and Bono recalled how she had played on stage, albeit her digital image, during the band’s 360-degree world tour even though he laughed at how some fans thought ASSK was a “speed metal outfit from Asia”.

Accepting her award, Ms Suu Kyi said she was “amazed and deeply touched and moved” by the response she had received in Europe. “I had not expected this”, she observed in a voice of a genuine surprise.

Silence filled the theatre as she described how she had taken on duties “from which I will never be relieved”.

However, she also laughed at the memory of how the Burmese people have long been described as “the Irish of the East”. She joked it might have something to do with the fact Burmese males love their drink and “we are all rather superstitious”.

Earlier, Bob Geldof generated further laughter when he daringly suggested Ms Suu Kyi might prefer to find some military junta after having spent most of the day with Bono.

But as she left Ireland, his words would have carried a deeper resonance in reminding her that she was now facing the important stuff of “the dull grind of normal politics”.

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