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Monday, 6 May, 2002, 13:53 GMT 14:53 UK
World welcomes Suu Kyi release
Aung San Suu Kyi thronged by supporters
The release is being hailed as a breakthrough
Leaders around the world have welcomed the release of Burma's pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, after 20 months of house arrest.

United Nations envoy Razali Ismail hailed her release as an "important beginning" but said more time was needed for national reconciliation.

The Malaysian diplomat, who brokered secretive talks between Aung San Suu Kyi and the ruling military junta, said Burma was "clearly indicating its commitment towards democracy and national reconciliation."

She knows that she has a standing invitation from the Norwegian Nobel Committee when the situation is right.

Olav Njolstad, Nobel Institute
"This is a very happy day. I am delighted for her and the country," he said.

"I hope they will continue negotiations to institute democracy but we have to give them time. Don't expect things to happen immediately."

UN spokesman Fred Eckhard said that Secretary General Kofi Annan was "ready to assist the efforts of the government and the NLD to... push ahead the process of reconciliation and democratisation".

Malaysian Prime Minister Mahathir Mohamad told a news conference that it was a significant development for Burma, also known as Myanmar.

"It is progress; it shows common sense on the part of both Aung San Suu Kyi as well as the government of Myanmar and both should be commended," he said.

"It has taken us a long time but we have to be patient."

'Long overdue'

Other countries have also welcomed the pro-democracy leader's release.

United States Secretary of State Colin Powell said he was "very pleased that she has been released and allowed to participate in political life once again."

UK Foreign Secretary Jack Straw said in a statement: "I warmly welcome the news that Aung San Suu Kyi has been released.

"Her freedom is long overdue and we hope she is allowed to carry out her responsibilities as general secretary (of the National League for Democracy) freely and openly."

Aung San Suu Kyi's release was also welcomed by the Norwegian Nobel Institute, which awarded her its coveted peace prize in 1991.

We encourage the Burmese Government to build on this by taking further steps to advance the process

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer
"We are incredibly happy over the news," said Olav Njolstad, acting director of the institute. "She is a unique woman, some say the most shining of recent Nobel winners.

"We are hoping that the regime (in Burma) is ready for wider democratisation."

Aung San Suu Kyi did not travel to Norway to receive the award because of restrictions placed upon her.

Mr Njolstad said: "She knows that she has a standing invitation from the Norwegian Nobel Committee when the situation is right. She is heartily welcome."

The European Union's foreign policy chief, Javier Solana, said he hoped Burma could now begin the process of reintegration into the international community.

Japan - Burma's biggest aid donor - said it would provide more assistance if moves towards democracy were speeded up.

'Important signals'

Australian Foreign Minister Alexander Downer said the release was a positive step.

"We encourage the Burmese Government to build on this by taking further steps to advance the process," he said in a statement.

Thailand also said the development was a crucial step towards national reconciliation.

"As a neighbouring country, the Royal Thai Government welcomes the lifting of the restrictions on Aung San Suu Kyi... and allowing her the liberty to carry out all activities," foreign ministry spokesman Rattakit Manathat said.

The German Foreign Minister, Joschka Fischer, said the release of political prisoners and the start of a political dialogue between the government and opposition groups would now be "important signals" on the path to democracy.

Human rights

Canada's Foreign Minister, Bill Graham, urged the ruling military regime to release all political prisoners.

"Canada welcomes the release of Aung San Suu Kyi, which is long overdue," he said. "We remain concerned, however, over ongoing human rights violations in Burma."

The World Bank said it welcomed the news and said it hoped this was "the start of a process" that would lead to Burma re-entering the international community.

Burma has faced international isolation and economic sanctions since failing to hand over power in 1990 when Aung San Suu Kyi's NLD won a landslide election victory.

See also:

06 May 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi freed
30 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Hopes mount for Burma breakthrough
28 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Burma talks 'make progress'
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
Q&A: Aung San Suu Kyi's release
24 Apr 02 | Asia-Pacific
UN envoy holds Burma talks
19 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Analysis: Burma's secret talks
22 Mar 02 | Asia-Pacific
Burma's hollow gains
30 Jan 02 | Asia-Pacific
Aung San Suu Kyi meets Burma general
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