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Suu Kyi given president's welcome in Paris

Reuters/Philippe Wojazer

Myanmar democracy campaigner Aung San Suu Kyi declared that her country’s President Thein Sein is “sincere” in wanting democracy on a visit to Paris. President François Hollande promised to support “all actors” in the current reform process.

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In Paris, the last stop on her five-country tour of Europe, Suu Kyi, who was recently elected to her country's parliament, was received in a manner usually reserved for heads of state. 

After arriving at Paris’s Gare du Nord on Tuesday, she was whisked off to the Elysée presidential palace for a meeting with Hollande and then, after a press conference, a dinner with government leaders and intellectuals.

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The guest list included Stéphane Hessel, the 95-year-old author of the pamphlet Time for Outrage! which helped inspire the Occupy movement, and exiled Chinese Nobel literature prize-winner, Gao Xingjian.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has been treated in a manner appropriate to her history, past and present,” a diplomat told Libération newspaper.

At the press conference Suu Kyi declared that she believed that Thein Sein, the former military officer who was appointed president last year, really wants to push the country towards democracy but could face opposition from inside the all-powerful armed forces.

"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, adding that reform would not be "irreversible” until the army is committed to it.

The opposition is “ready to compromise” with the military, she said.

Hollande promised that France would back all those engaged in reform and that Thein Sein would be welcome to visit, although he did not go as far as Britain, Suu Kyi’s previous stop, which issued an invitation to the Myanmar leader.

He also insisted that French oil giant Total, which has been accused of using military-supplied forced labour and other rights abuses in the constrution of a pipeline in Myanmar, has changed its practices.

Suu Kyi noted that it has made efforts to compensate displaced people and employees.

On Wednesday was to meet Paris mayor Betrand Delanoë and receive the certificate of freedom of the city eight years after the city council voted to award her the honour.

She was also expected to meet Foreign Affairs Minister Laurent Fabius and plant a “tree of liberty”, like those planted during the French revolution, in the gardens of his ministry.

The welcome afforded to Suu Kyi is partly motivated by France’s wish to win contracts in Myanmar as the European Union (EU) and the US ease sanctions on the military regime.

In Paris Suu Kyi declared that she preferred that the sanctions remain suspended rather than scrapped as a sign that the EU believes that Thein Sein’s reforms could be reversed.

She also called for “democracy as well as economic development”.

"Development cannot be a substitute for democracy, it must be used to strengthen the
foundations of democracy," she said.

Hollande called on Suu Kyi to tip him off if French companies in Myanmar do not respect human rights and social and environmental norms.

“To me France is Victor Hugo, the revolutionary spirit and … onion soup,” Suu Kyi told the French press corps.
 

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