PARIS, June 27, 2012 (AFP) – Myanmar’s democracy champion Aung San Suu Kyi, nearing the end of her triumphant Europe tour in France, accepted another award Wednesday as she became an honorary citizen of Paris.
“You are a woman of peace and love, and this is why Paris also loves you,” said mayor Bertrand Delanoehe, hailing her “tenacity” and “unshakeable faith” in her campaign for democracy in the country formerly called Burma.
The Nobel Peace laureate — who spent almost two decades under house arrest for her freedom struggle — has been cheered by crowds and leaders on her five-nation tour, her first visit to Europe in a quarter-century.
In France, she was treated with honours normally reserved for a head of state, dining at the Elysee Palace on Tuesday with President Francois Hollande, who pledged support for her country’s transition towards democracy.
Myanmar was for decades ruled by an iron-fisted junta, but a reformist government under ex-general President Thein Sein has freed political prisoners and allowed Suu Kyi‘s party back into mainstream politics.
Suu Kyi, 67, has in the past two weeks visited Switzerland, Norway, Ireland, Britain and now France, receiving rock star welcomes along the way.
The trip allowed her to finally give her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, and to thank groups and institutions from the Rafto Foundation and Amnesty International to Oxford University for awards they have given her.
On Wednesday, she received her 2004 honorary citizen of Paris certificate and met with the Paris mayor, Delanoe. City Hall once honoured Suu Kyi by hanging a huge portrait of her outside the building in 2007.
Reading a statement in French in city hall’s sumptuous Salon des Arcades, Suu Kyi hailed “the deep attachment of Paris to justice and freedom”.
“I was surprised and happy that Paris supported my cause with such vigour,” she said.
Suu Kyi has enjoyed strong support among rights groups in France and was the subject of a 2011 French-English film biography, “The Lady”, directed by French filmmaker Luc Besson and starring Michelle Yeoh.
She was also to meet Foreign Minister Laurent Fabius on the second day of her three-day visit to France, where she travelled from London.
On Tuesday Hollande said France gave its full backing to the transition efforts in Myanmar, and said Paris was ready to welcome Thein Sein, who also received an invitation from former colonial ruler Britain last week.
Major Western powers have rolled back or suspended long-standing sanctions against Myanmar, a resource-rich but deeply impoverished country.
Suu Kyi has on her tour called for human rights-friendly investment.
“We need democracy as well as economic development,” she said on Tuesday.
“Development cannot be a substitute for democracy, it must be used to strengthen the foundations of democracy.”
Suu Kyi said “financial transparency in the extractive industries and in fact business in general” were essential to investment.
She also said efforts were still needed to convince the former regime of the need for democratic reforms, but that Thein Sein seemed sincere.
“I believe that the president is sincere and I believe that he is honest, but I cannot speak for everybody in the government,” she said.
“I don’t think we can say it (reform) is irreversible until such time as the army is committed to that.”
Hollande also said Tuesday that French oil giant Total — whose operations in Myanmar have been criticised — is respecting all environmental and labour laws in Myanmar, but told Suu Kyi to call him if any complaints arose.
Total’s presence in Myanmar has been contested by human rights activists, who accuse the firm of enriching the former ruling junta.
“Today this company’s practices have changed and are respectful of human rights and must also respect environmental and social norms,” said Hollande.
“If it ever happens that they don’t respect (regulations), Mrs Aung San Suu Kyi will be able to call me anytime so we can put things in order.”
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