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Burmese Dissident Leader Draws Crowds Outside Rangoon

Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, center, pays her respects to a senior Buddhist monk during her visit to a Buddhist monastery in Bago, north of Rangoon, Burma, August 14, 2011

Burma’s opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, has drawn cheering crowds in recent public meetings outside Rangoon. Analysts say the gatherings are an important step for the new government to establish the ground rules for dealing with the Nobel laureate and well-known dissident.

Under police escort, the convoy of 30 vehicles transported opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on her first political trip outside Rangoon since her release from detention last November.

In comments to enthusiastic crowds and well wishers, Aung San Suu Kyi called for national unity. She said she understands people’s needs and is trying to fulfill them. The opposition leader also called for people to support her National League for Democracy party, which the previous military government disbanded before last year’s elections.

Sunday’s journey to the Pegu region followed two rounds of talks with the Labor and Social Welfare Minister, Aung Kyi.

Naing Aung, secretary general for the Thailand based rights group “Forum for Democracy in Burma,” said the recent talks and the coverage of them in state-sponsored media could signal a new stage in government communications with the opposition.

“If there is real understanding and there is a real road map between Daw Aung San Suu Kyi and the government, I expect there should be more public meetings by Daw Aung San Suu Kyi with the people of Burma,” said Naing Aung.

Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's democratic opposition, smiles to supporters near Bago, some 100 km north of Rangoon, August 14, 2011
Aung San Suu Kyi, leader of Burma's democratic opposition, smiles to supporters near Bago, some 100 km north of Rangoon, August 14, 2011

Since Burma’s new civilian-led government took office in March, officials have been under international pressure to show progress in political reforms. But the government has sent mixed messages to Suu Kyi, and state media warned that her trips outside Rangoon could incite unrest.

However her recent talks with Minister Aung Kyi were reported in the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper. The coverage said the two addressed four areas of agreement including: ‘stability of the state’, cooperation and ensuring economic and social development, and avoiding conflict.

Dr. Naing Aung says it appears both sides were looking to further talks on more concrete issues by setting the “ground rules for negotiations.”

Debbie Stothard, a spokesperson for the rights group, the Alternative ASEAN Network, says Suu Kyi has been strategic in her dealings with the new government.

“It was an important stand of Aung San Suu Kyi that she would respond to dialogue rather than to threats," she said. "In the meetings with Aung Kyi she’s been quite conciliatory and quite practical and reasonable. However, she refused to bow down to threats in the sense where her safety. She refused to give into threats against her personal safety if she were to travel out of Rangoon.”

Stothard says the government faces pressure to maintain a dialogue with Suu Kyi. The United States has pressed the government for “concrete” progress in moves to democracy.

Suu Kyi’s supporters say the 66-year-old activist will be making more trips in the future to meet with the Burmese people.