June 17, 2012 / 7:37 PM / 7 years ago

Suu Kyi wins pop star reception in Europe

BERGEN, Norway (Reuters) - Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi has enjoyed pop star treatment wherever she has gone on her first trip to Europe in nearly a quarter of a century, after Myanmar’s rulers finally freed her from house arrest.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (front R) arrives at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, as Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store (front L) welcomes her, during her visit to Norway in Oslo June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

She has been showered with flowers, Norway’s King Harald almost ran to greet her, and 12,000 people waited patiently in Oslo’s icy rain just to say “Thank you Mother Suu”.

“We fought so long for her release and she’s finally here,” said Brigt Olav Gaasdal, who travelled half a day from his country home on Sunday to join thousands in Norway’s second biggest city Bergen to catch a glimpse of Suu Kyi.

“She could have left Myanmar, she could have given up and I want to celebrate her incredible commitment,” said Gaasdal.

Suu Kyi, 66, the Oxford-educated daughter of Myanmar’s assassinated independence hero Aung San, arrived in Norway on Friday to accept her 1991 Nobel Peace Prize and the 1990 human rights prize from the Bergen-based Rafto Foundation.

“We don’t have to see the end of the road far away in one instant, we just have to see the right road to get there,” Suu Kyi told thousands near Bergen’s historic waterfront.

“One step is enough for me. If there is enough light to make us take the right steps one by one, then we’ll reach our goal in safety and peace.”

One woman cried. An elderly Asian man clutched Myanmar’s flag. Children took pictures. Burmese girls, having waited hours, nervously walked up on stage to kiss Suu Kyi. Even the relentless rain, which drenched Bergen all morning, stopped.

From the moment she landed in Norway, she has received star treatment. Arriving in Oslo on Friday, a screaming, chanting, and dancing crowd, a mix of Norwegians and Burmese, welcomed her at the iconic Grand Hotel.

VISIBLY MOVED

A visibly moved Suu Kyi turned back from the hotel door, even as her protocol team tried to usher her through, to accept as many flowers as she could carry from the crowd chanting “Mother Suu”.

Two weeks earlier, the crowd awaiting teenage pop idol Justin Bieber in front of the same hotel was tiny by comparison.

On Saturday, 12,000 people stood hours through downpours to see her, prompting Suu Kyi to deliver an unscheduled speech.

“In a world filled with so much violence, her message of non-violence and tolerance is extremely important and deserves that we should all come to see her,” said Ingrid Daae, who was just two when Suu Kyi won the Rafto Prize.

Suu Kyi’s trip would have been unimaginable just 19 months ago when she was freed from house arrest days after an election seen as rigged in favour of an army-backed party to entrench the military’s grip on power behind a facade of democracy.

She spent a total of 15 years under house arrest between 1989 and her release in late 2010, never leaving Myanmar even during brief periods of freedom after 1989, afraid the military would not let back in.

The quasi-civilian government which emerged from a 2010 vote, although approved by a parliament packed with retired and serving military, has surpassed expectations in introducing a series of reforms to try to rid the country of its pariah status after decades of isolation and decay.

Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (2nd R) leaves the Ministry of Foreign Affairs as she walks beside Norway's Foreign Minister Jonas Gahr Store (2nd L) during her visit to Norway in Oslo June 17, 2012. REUTERS/Cathal McNaughton

Suu Kyi became a member of parliament this year following her triumph in a parliamentary by-election that reformist president and former junta general Thein Sein had convinced her to take part in after winning her trust.

The world’s major powers honoured the shift in Myanmar, suspending long-standing sanctions to encourage a full move to democracy and to share Suu Kyi’s cautious optimism.

Some rock stars wish they could be more like her. U2 front man Bono will fly to Oslo to accompany Suu Kyi to Dublin on Monday for the next stop on her 17-day trip.

Editing by Ralph Gowling

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