Suu Kyi set to steal Myanmar spotlight on Euro tour

June 13, 2012

By Aung Hla Tun

(Reuters) – Myanmar prisoner-turned-parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi set off on Wednesday on a tour of Europe almost certain to attract the kind of fanfare that will test the patience of the reformist generals now in power after decades of army rule.

The hugely popular Nobel Peace laureate will take in five countries – Switzerland, Norway, Britain, Ireland and France – on a 17-day tour almost certain to wrest the international spotlight away from the astonishing reforms vaunted by Myanmar’s once-vilified leaders.

Suu Kyi’s European sojourn, her second trip outside Myanmar in almost a quarter of a century, would have been unimaginable 19 months ago, when an authoritarian junta ruled Myanmar and confined her to her home.

“I’m excited about each country in a different way,” the 66-year-old said on Wednesday before her departure from Yangon airport. “I’ll get to know this only when I get there.”

The cameras and elaborate flower bouquets that greeted Suu Kyi at the airport are a taste of the attention that will shower upon her in Europe, a welcome more fit for a head of state than an opposition parliamentarian – a fact that could strain fragile but cordial ties with President Thein Sein and anger conservatives among the old military guard.

“There’s always the risk that tensions may arise, whether from Thein Sein or people in the military,” said Christopher Roberts, an expert on Southeast Asian politics at the Australian National University.

“Once you open the gates and things change, you can’t close them or stop them at a certain point. There might be some out there who are worried about this.”

Under the junta whose rule Suu Kyi fought against for two decades, she passed up opportunities to leave Myanmar in fear the generals threatened by her influence would block her return.

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