, YANGON, Nov 14 – Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi reached out to Myanmar\’s splintered opposition forces Sunday as she addressed thousands of exuberant supporters following her release from years of house arrest.
"I want to hear the voice of the people, after that we will decide what we want to do," she told a sea of followers outside her party headquarters. "I want to work with all democratic forces.
"I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law," she added.
The daughter of Myanmar\’s independence hero carries a weight of expectation among her supporters for a better future for the nation after almost half a century of military dictatorship. Related article: Suu Kyi supporters ecstatic over idol\’s release
The Nobel Peace Prize winner was freed on Saturday after spending most of th e last two decades locked up, in a move greeted with jubilation by her followers and welcomed by rights groups and governments around the world.
But it remains to be seen whether the most famous dissident in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, can live up to her long-suffering compatriots\’ high expectations. Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
A huge crowd gathered outside the headquarters of Suu Kyi\’s National League for Democracy for the speech and television pictures showed her struggling to make her way through the throngs.
Thousands of her supporters had roared with approval on Saturday as Suu Kyi appeared for the first time outside her lakeside home after the end of her latest seven-year stretch of detention.
Attention is focused on whether she can reunite the divided opposition after an election widely criticised by the West as a sham to prolong military rule behind a facade of democracy.
Western nations and pro-democracy activists have blasted the November 7 poll as anything but free and fair following widespread reports of intimidation and fraud. Related article: World hails Suu Kyi release
Suu Kyi\’s party boycotted the vote, a decision that deeply split the opposition.
Many in the impoverished nation see the democracy icon as their best chance for freedom.
"Our country must become democratic. Our future depends on Aung San Suu Kyi," said NLD youth leader Nyi Min. "She gives us hope and courage. Only she can free us from this anarchist regime."
Many countries were quick to welcome her release, with US President Barack Obama hailing her as "a hero of mine".
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon described Suu Kyi as "an inspiration" to the world, but said the junta must release all political prisoners.
Setting her free is a huge gamble for Myanmar\’s generals, and observers see it as an attempt to tame criticism of a controversial election last Sunday, the country\’s first in 20 years.
Some had feared that the junta, whose proxies claimed overwhelming victory in the vote, would continue to put restrictions on the freedom of its number one enemy.
But the junta did not impose any restrictions on her release, according to a senior government official as well as her lawyer Nyan Win.
"There was no condition on her release. She is completely free," Nyan Win told AFP. "She is very glad and happy."
Suu Kyi had been under house arrest since 2003 — just one of several stretches of detention at the hands of the ruling generals.
Her sentence was extended last year over a bizarre incident in which an American swam uninvited to her lakeside home, sparking international condemnation and keeping her off the scene for last Sunday\’s vote.
The pro-democracy leader swept her party to victory in a 1990 election, but it was never allowed to take power.
Suu Kyi\’s struggle for her country has come at a high personal cost: her husband, British academic Michael Aris, died in 1999, and in the final stages of his battle with cancer the junta refused him a visa to see his wife.
She has not seen her two sons for about a decade and has never met her grandchildren.