Aung San Suu Kyi heads for Paris

Aung San Suu Kyi heads for Paris

Burma's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi arrives for the last leg of her historic European tour on Tuesday in Paris, where she will be treated with the honours of a visiting head of state.

The 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate arrives in France after warm welcomes in Switzerland, Ireland, Norway and Britain and will meet with French President Francois Hollande and other senior officials.

“France will pay tribute to this woman’s exceptional struggle for human rights and will mark its active support for the democratic transition under way” in Burma, foreign ministry spokesman Bernard Valero said.

Suu Kyi will arrive in Paris by train from London on Tuesday afternoon, before heading to the Elysée Palace for dinner and a press conference with Hollande.

During her three-day visit Suu Kyi will also meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius, Paris Mayor Bertrand Delanoe, the heads of both chambers of parliament, members of the local Burmese community and her supporters in human-rights groups.

Pierre Martial, the head of the France Aung San Suu Kyi association that supported her in the country, said she would use the visit to urge French authorities and businesses to back the country’s democratic transition.

“She is calling on some countries to give concrete help, to invest… in a reasonable and fair way, to help the country revive after years of economic and political horror,” he said.

He said the visit would also serve for Suu Kyi “to thank all those who helped her during these long years of repression”.

Martial urged French authorities to “commit very concretely” during her visit to providing both financial and moral support to independent pro-democracy groups operating in the country.

A French diplomatic source said that her visit was “a message of confidence in the future of a country that has chosen to break with detestable practices” and that France would support Burma in this move.

Suu Kyi was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest in November 2010 and became a lawmaker earlier this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy in Burma.

She launched her European tour on June 13 in Switzerland and will arrive in France from Britain, where she studied and lived for several years until she returned to fight for democracy in Burma, leaving her children and her English husband behind.

On June 16 she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest, in Oslo, pledging to keep up her struggle for democracy.

Despite some optimism surrounding reforms in the country, France-based groups including the International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) and the Human Rights League (LDH) urged the international community to maintain pressure on Burma’s leadership for reform.

In a statement on Monday, the groups called for “great caution regarding the easing of economic sanctions and an increase in investment” in Burma, noting “the lack of an independent judicial system” and “continued repression of public demonstrations”.

Suu Kyi’s visit to Europe has been clouded by continued violence in western Burma where dozens of people have been killed and an estimated 90,000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.

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