BANGKOK // Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi, freed from seven years of house arrest, told cheering supporters yesterday that she would continue to fight for human rights and the rule of law in a nation ruthlessly controlled by the military.
However, the measured tone of her remarks indicated she is aware of the delicate balance she must maintain between the expectations of her supporters and the desire of the military to restrain her.
Speaking to more than 1,000 people at the dilapidated headquarters of her National League for Democracy party – the first stop for the Nobel Peace Prize laureate after leaving the home that had been her prison – she urged national reconciliation.
"If we want to get what we want, we have to do it in the right way; otherwise we will not achieve our goal however noble or correct it may be," she told thousands of enthusiastic supporters who filled the streets.
Ms Suu Kyi, 65, symbolizes the struggle for democracy in the isolated nation once known as Burma. She faces a military that has ruled since 1962 and is determined to cling to power, and she could well land back where she was until this weekend, house arrest and isolation.
She said that she hopes the junta "won't feel threatened by me. Popularity is something that comes and goes. I don't think that anyone should feel threatened by it."
The leading US diplomat in Myanmar, Larry Dinger, was among diplomats who met her after her release. He said she spoke about the need for pragmatism and unity.
She told reporters her message to junta leader Gen Than Shwe was: "Let's speak to each other directly." The two have not met face-to-face since early 2002. "I am for national reconciliation. I am for dialogue," she said.
The Irish rock band U2, who have long campaigned for her freedom, expressed "cautious joy" at her release.
Ms Suu Kyi entered the small compound of her political party yesterday as people shouted "We love Suu" amid thunderous applause.
"I believe in human rights and I believe in the rule of law," she said in her speech.
She said she bore no grudge against those who had held her in detention for more than 15 of the last 21 years. She said she had been treated well.
Ms Suu Kyi asked her followers to pray for those still imprisoned by the junta. Human rights groups say the government holds more than 2,200 political prisoners.
Speaking of her house arrest, Ms Suu Kyi said she "always felt free within myself. I kept myself pretty much on an even keel."
Her release came just days after an election that was swept by the ruling junta's proxy political party and decried by Western nations as a sham.
Many observers have questioned whether her release was timed by the junta to distract the world's attention from the poll on November 7.
She did not comment on the election, over which the nation's other political parties have complained of fraud. The NLD has announced it will establish a committee to investigate the allegations.
The NLD refused to re-register as a political party and was barred from the elections. But Ms Suu Kyi led the party's call for a boycott of the polls.
She is expected to meet the leaders of other political parties in the coming days, including the break-away party the National Democratic Force, which participated in the elections. NDF leaders welcomed the gesture.
NDF spokesman Khin Maung Swe told The National: "We consider her a national leader and she does not belong to any single group or party. She belongs to the entire nation."
Ms Suu Kyi is keen to gather the views of the people, said a senior NLD politician. Everyone is encouraged to contribute their ideas, he added. The party intends to set up a network to co-ordinate the information and plan a response.
When she met the NLD leaders on Saturday, she said she would like to know the genuine desire of the people. "She wanted to hear the voice of the people before adopting future plans," said Ohn Kyaing, a senior member of the NLD.
She also said she would support the lifting of international sanctions against Myanmar, if it is shown that they have hurt citizens more than the junta.
Despite the isolation, she remains a popular figure.
"People, even if they have never seen her, they know her name," Bo Kyi, a Burmese human rights activist based in Thailand, said. "She is the only truly unifying force, even the ethnic minorities support."
The government-controlled newspapers reported her release. One said she was granted a pardon after "she was found to be displaying good conduct."
* With additional reporting by Associated Press