CAPITOL HILL —
Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi has received the Congressional Gold Medal - the highest honor Congress can bestow, at a ceremony Wednesday in the U.S. Capitol Rotunda. Later she met with President Obama at the White House.
Members of the U.S. Congress from both chambers and both major political parties gathered to pay tribute to Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who was first awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008, while she was under 15 years of house arrest in Burma. On Wednesday, she was in the Capitol Rotunda in person, surrounded by congressional leaders, to receive the honor.
Republican Senate Minority leader Mitch McConnell has been a strong advocate of Suu Kyi and the democracy movement in Burma for almost two decades.
"And it is impossible today, all these years later, not to be moved by the thought, that this most unlikely of revolutionaries may yet witness the deepest longing of her heart," said McConnell.
An emotional Republican Senator John McCain thanked Suu Kyi for teaching him about courage.
"I consider myself very fortunate to have lived to see this day and to know the people of Burma, whose dignity and rights Aung San Suu Kyi has sacrificed so much to defend, and will one day be free to live with dignity and justice and hope," said McCain.
-The United States' highest civilian award
-Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded the medal in 2008, while under house arrest in Burma, for her leadership and commitment to human rights
-The first Congressional Gold Medal recipient was George Washington, the first U.S. president, in 1776
-Other recent recipients include India's Mother Teresa, Pope John Paul, former British Prime Minister Tony Blair and Reverend Martin Luther King
Many of the lawmakers who spoke mentioned the great personal sacrifices Aung San Suu Kyi made for the cause she believed in. Burma's military junta separated her from her family and she was not even permited to visit her husband when he was dying of cancer.
But Wednesday was more a day of joy, and former First Lady Laura Bush celebrated the triumph of the democratic reforms Burma has launched over the past two years.
"The transition in Burma, like past events in South Africa or Eastern Europe, shows that history has a hopeful direction. It is capable of miracles. There is a part of every soul that longs for freedom and any government built on opression is built on sand," said Laura Bush.
Secretary of State Hillary Clinton emphasized that Suu Kyi was not content just to remain a symbol of democracy, an icon, but is continuing the fight as a member of parliament in Burma.
"It is almost too delicious to believe, my friend, that you are here in the Rotunda of our great Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of your parliament," said Clinton.
After all the praise heaped upon her, Suu Kyi was soft-spoken in her response.
"This is one of the most moving days of my life, to be here in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land. Yet I do not feel myself to be a stranger, for I see many familiar faces, and faces that are new to me but known through what they have done for my country and for our cause," said Aung San Suu Kyi.
During her visit to the United States, Suu Kyi has said she supports the easing of the remaining U.S. sanctions against Burma.
On Wednesday, while she was the Capitol, the U.S. Treasury Department announced that sanctions against Burmese President Thein Sein and the speaker of the lower house of parliamentart Thura Shwe Mann have been lifted.
Related Video courtesy - VOA Carolyn Presutti