YANGON, 23 September 2007 — Stepping out of her home in tears, Myanmar’s democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi greeted Buddhist monks yesterday in a landmark moment for a swelling protest movement against the military junta.
Armed guards usually block the road leading to the rambling lakeside house, but in an unprecedented move, they allowed about 1,000 monks and an equal number of their supporters to walk past the place where she has been detained for 12 of the past 18 years.
As the rain poured down, Suu Kyi walked out with two other women and cried as she paid her respects to the monks, witnesses said.
They stopped outside her home for about 15 minutes and chanted a Buddhist prayer: “May we be completely free from all danger, may we be completely free from all grief, may we be completely free from poverty, may we have peace in heart and mind.” There was no interruption from about 20 uniformed security police, who had opened the roadblock. After the monks left the road was again closed.
The witnesses said Suu Kyi did not appear to speak to the monks, who have been leading an escalating show of strength that has left the junta facing its most prolonged challenge in nearly two decades.
The 62-year-old Suu Kyi has become an internationally recognized figurehead of the pro-democracy movement in Myanmar since her National League for Democracy won 1990 elections by a landslide.
The military has never recognized the result, however, and the Nobel Peace Prize laureate now has virtually no contact with the outside world, apart from a live-in maid and periodic visits from her doctor.
Earlier, thousands of monks had taken to the streets in Myanmar’s main city, Yangon, and its second city, Mandalay, in their sixth straight day of marches.
The monks — who are deeply respected in devoutly Buddhist Myanmar — have become the effective standard-bearers for a protest movement that broke out a month ago after a huge hike in fuel prices and that has since gone nationwide.
More than 2,300 marched and prayed in five protests around Yangon, and a similar rally in Mandalay — an important center of Buddhist learning — drew at least 1,000 monks, witnesses said.