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Friday, 25 August, 2000, 15:12 GMT 16:12 UK
Profile: Aung San Suu Kyi
Aung San Suu Kyi
To her supporters she is known simply as The Lady
By BBC News Online's Joe Havely

As a symbol of heroic and peaceful resistance in the face of oppression, Aung San Suu Kyi has come to be regarded in Burma and around the world as the Nelson Mandela of south-east Asia.

Awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in absentia in 1991, she had by then been held under house arrest by Burma's military authorities for two years.

General Aung San
General Aung San: Burma's independence hero and father of Aung San Suu Kyi
It would be another four years before she was finally allowed to leave her home, although she remains restricted to the capital, Rangoon, and her movements are closely monitored.

Now aged 55, Aung San Suu Kyi is the daughter of the assassinated Burmese nationalist leader, General Aung San.

His resistance to British colonial rule culminated in Burma's independence in 1948 and her relationship to him gives her a unique position in Burmese society as the daughter of a national hero.

Political destiny

After receiving her initial education in Burma and India, Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to the UK where she studied at Oxford University.

She met and married Dr Michael Aris whilst studying at Oxford
It was there that she met and married her husband, Michael Aris, an Oxford University academic.

At the time Dr Aris knew his wife's destiny might ultimately lie with her returning to Burma.

"Before we were married I promised my wife that I would never stand between her and her country," he recalled.

It was not until 1988 however that Aung San Suu Kyi first came to prominence in Burma when she returned to the country leaving her husband and their two sons in Britain.

Democracy movement

There she quickly became the leader of a burgeoning pro-democracy movement following the brutal repression of a pro-democratic uprising earlier that summer.

Movements outside her Rangoon house are strictly monitored
It was a mission she labelled "Burma's second struggle for independence".

The movement quickly grew into a political party that went on to win an overwhelming 82% of the vote in national elections in 1990 - despite the fact that by that time she had already been under house arrest for more than a year.

The military regime, however, refused to relinquish power and stepped up repression of her party, the National League for Democracy.

Natural leader

Martin Smith, a writer on Burmese affairs, says there are several reasons why Aung San Suu Kyi proved such a natural leader.

The 1988 military crackdown was a turning point
"Her father was the founder of the democratic movement. So Suu Kyi in a way had inherited that kind of tradition.

"But the second thing is of course down to Aung San Suu Kyi herself, her role in the democracy movement and her speeches about the need for change in Burmese society."

Inspired by the non-violent campaigns of the American civil rights leader Martin Luther King, and India's Mahatma Gandhi, Aung San Suu Kyi organised rallies after her return to Burma, and travelled the country, calling for peaceful democratic reforms and free elections.

Popular support

She has tirelessly campaigned for change through dialogue and negotiation.

For thousands of Burmese exiles Aung San Suu Kyi is a national hero
Her tolerance, patience and confidence - born from the knowledge that she has immense popular support - have contrasted sharply with the paranoia and bullying tactics of generals who hold power.

Much of her time is spent in military imposed isolation inside her run-down villa on Rangoon's University Avenue - guards outside keep all but a select few visitors well away.

To her millions of supporters across Burma she is known simply as "The Lady".

Movement restricted

1998: A stand-off with the authorities as Aung San Suu Kyi tries to leave Rangoon
Despite Aun San Suu Kyi's official release from house arrest, there are still de facto restrictions on her freedom to move and speak, and oppression of pro-democracy activism continues.

In July 1998 she spent five days in a stand-off with military officials outside Rangoon before being forcibly returned to the capital.

A month later she tried again and spent 13 days stationary on a road west of the capital before medical concerns finally forced her to return to the city.

But her commitment to her cause was perhaps most starkly and tragically illustrated a year later when her husband, still living in the UK, became terminally ill with prostate cancer.

Believing that she would be blocked from returning to Burma, she declined the generals' offer of a visa to visit him in England for a final reunion.

Denied the chance for a final farewell visit Michael Aris died in March 1999 - the couple had not seen each other for three years.

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See also:

26 May 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma: 10 years on
19 Jun 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burma military 'seeks democracy'
27 Mar 00 | Asia-Pacific
Burmese military warns opponents
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