LONDON -- Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy leader of the opposition in Myanmar, made an emotional homecoming visit to Oxford University on Wednesday as she continued her first trip abroad in 24 years, much of that time spent as a political prisoner under house arrest.
At Oxford, where Suu Kyi studied beginning in 1964 and spent the early years of her married life, she received an honorary doctorate in civil law.
“Today many strands of my life have come together,” said Suu Kyi, speaking after the ceremony in the 17th century Sheldonian Theater to academics, students and fellow honorary doctors.
“During the most difficult years I was upheld by memories of Oxford," she said. "These were among the most important inner resources that helped me to cope with all the challenges I had to face.”
During her long years under house arrest in her homeland, which is also known as Burma, Suu Kyi was unable to travel to Britain to visit her husband, Michael Aris, who died of cancer in 1999.
Her memories were simple but precious, she said: summer days spent on the river, “reading on the lawn, or in the library -- not reading but looking out of the window.”
But life as an Oxford student had taught her above all “to respect all that is the best in human civilization. ... It gave me confidence in humankind.”
Campus life was one “in which young people can make a world of their own,” a freedom “that our young people in Burma have not had for decades,” she said. “I would like a bit of Oxford ... in Burma.”
Her arrival in Oxford on Tuesday was feted by academics, students, freedom campaigners and refugees with flowers, waves and cheers of support interspersed with singing and greetings as the day also marked her 67th birthday.
Aung San Suu Kyi graduated in 1967, then lived in Oxford beginning in 1974 with her husband, an expert on Tibet. They had two sons.
She left her family in 1988 for Myanmar to lead the National League for Democracy in elections. The military junta first placed her under house arrest in 1989.
She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991, which she finally was able to receive in Oslo over the weekend.
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-- Janet Stobart
Photo: Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi of Myanmar holds her honorary degree in Oxford, England on Wednesday. Credit: Andy Rain / European Pressphoto Agency