YOKOHAMA, Japan - World leaders applauded the release of Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Saturday, calling her a human rights hero and urging the country’s ruling junta to free more political prisoners.
“She is a hero of mine and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world,” U.S. President Barack Obama said, using the former name of the nation of 50 million nestled between China and India.
British Prime Minister David Cameron said her long detention was a “travesty””and her release “long overdue”, while German Chancellor Angela Merkel described her as symbol of the global fight for human rights.
“Her non-violence and relentlessness have turned her into a much-admired role model,” Merkel said.
U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said her dignity and courage were an inspiration to people around the world and cautioned Myanmar’s military leadership against imposing further restrictions on her, a theme echoed by France’s Nicolas Sarkozy.
“France will pay very close attention to the conditions in which Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys her newfound freedom. Any obstacle to her freedom of movement or expression would constitute a new and unacceptable denial of her rights,” the French president said.
Suu Kyi, 65, has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention because of her opposition to 48 years of military rule in Myanmar and her house arrest was extended in August last year.
Her release gives Myanmar a powerful pro-democracy voice just days after a widely criticised election was won by a party backed by the military and is likely to rekindle debate over Western sanctions against the resource-rich country.
FLOWERS IN HER HAIR
“It is now crucial that Aung San Suu Kyi has unrestricted freedom of movement and speech and can participate fully in her country’s political process,” European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso said.
Her hair pinned with flowers, the pro-democracy leader emerged from her crumbling lakeside mansion in Yangon on Saturday to rapturous cheers from supporters who had chanted for her release alongside riot police armed with guns and teargas.
“People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal,” the Nobel Peace Prize-winner said, before returning inside her home for the first meeting with her National League for Democracy party in seven years.
Despite her steely determination in confronting Myanmar’s generals, the country has moved no closer to democracy after nearly half a century of brutal military rule and more than 2,000 political prisoners remain in custody.
The United States first imposed sanctions in 1988 after the junta cracked down on student-led protests and has gradually tightened them over the years, with Obama extending them in May.
The European Union adopted a common sanctions stance in 1996, and countries including Australia, Canada and Japan also have restrictions in place.
“In the prisons of Myanmar there are still at least 2,100 political prisoners,” the Swiss Foreign Ministry said in a statement. “Switzerland appeals once again to the government of Myanmar to release these people immediately as well.”