Aung San Suu Kyi to address UK parliament

Agence France-Presse
Aung San Suu Kyi will address the British parliament on June 21 during a landmark trip to Europe

LONDON, United Kingdom – Myanmar’s Aung San Suu Kyi will be given the rare honor of addressing Britain’s parliament on June 21 during her landmark first trip abroad in more than two decades, it was announced Wednesday.

The 66-year-old opposition leader spent much of the last two decades locked up in her Yangon home by Myanmar’s former junta.

However, the democracy icon has now been issued with a passport and is able to travel abroad for the first time in 24 years.

Prime Minister David Cameron last month became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar, and invited Aung San Suu Kyi to come to Britain.

House of Commons speaker John Bercow made the brief announcement in parliament’s lower chamber on Wednesday.

“The prime minister has extended a formal invitation to Nobel Prize winner and newly-elected parliamentarian Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to visit the United Kingdom next month,” he told lawmakers.

“At my request, and that of the Lords speaker, she has kindly agreed to address members of both houses in Westminster Hall on Thursday, 21st of June at 3:00pm (1400 GMT),” John Bercow told the chamber.

Westminster Hall is the oldest building at the Houses of Parliament in London, dating back to the 11th century.

For the few

Addressing both houses in the oak-timbered hall is a rare honor bestowed on few foreign dignitaries.

US President Barack Obama did so in May 2011 and Pope Benedict XVI in September 2010.

The only others since World War II are French president Charles de Gaulle in 1960 and South African president Nelson Mandela in 1996.

Cameron welcomed Bercow’s announcement.

“She is a remarkable woman and for so many years has been effectively imprisoned in her own country,” he said.

“It’s an incredible testament to change in that country that she’s now able to travel and to speak freely, including in this parliament.”

Other confirmed stops on her landmark trip include Switzerland and Norway. She had previously been unwilling to leave for fear the former British colony’s military rulers would not let her return.

Myanmar’s relations with the international community have thawed rapidly since a nominally civilian government took over from the junta, and subsequent elections on April 1 gave Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy 43 seats in parliament.

On Cameron’s visit soon afterwards, the pair called for the European Union to suspend sanctions against the impoverished country in reward for political reforms, and the bloc has since done so.

During her overseas trip, Aung San Suu Kyi will give a speech on June 14 to the International Labour Organization conference in Geneva.

She is also scheduled to make a speech in Oslo on June 16 to accept the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991.

Her British husband Michael Aris, who died in 1999 while she remained imprisoned, and her two sons accepted the honour on her behalf.

Trip to Oxford

Her visit to Britain, where she lived for years with her family, will include a trip to Oxford in southern England, her university town.

The last person to address both houses in Westminster Hall was Queen Elizabeth II on March 20, in a speech marking her diamond jubilee.

The hall will also host a lunch for the sovereign marking her 60 years on the throne on June 5.

The lyings-in-state of several kings and queens, plus figures such as wartime prime minister Winston Churchill, have been held there.

The trials of king Charles I, Gunpowder Plot ringleader Guy Fawkes, Scottish independence leader William Wallace and Reformation martyr Thomas More were also held in the hall. – Agence France-Presse

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