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Channel 4 News | Feb 3
Several groups of Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar are making desperate attempts to escape to neighboring Thailand in cramped boats with little food o...
The big story in Asia this week: Aung San Suu Kyi's first trip out of Myanmar in nearly a quarter of a century. The pro-democracy leader was under house arrest for 14 of the last 24 years. And when she wasn't under house arrest, she worried that the military regime wouldn't let her return if she left the country.
But with the onset of political liberalization and her party's landslide victory, Suu Kyi is finally venturing outside of Myanmar's borders. She's visiting neighboring Thailand to consult with Burmese exiles and speak at the World Economic Forum. Her first stop was a suburb of Bangkok.
The town is nicknamed "Little Burma" because of the thousands of Burmese refugees who live there. About 2,000 of them waited to catch a glimpse of Suu Kyi. Many of them have lived in Thailand for years, often taking menial jobs to support themselves. Suu Kyi told them to learn their rights and to protect themselves from being exploited. She also said she hoped they'd all be able to come home soon.
To tell us more about Aung San Suu Kyi's historic visit, we have our contributor in Thailand, Jeanne Marie Hallacy with us on Skype. She's a journalist and filmmaker based in Bangkok. Jeanne Marie, thanks for joining us. Now, you were at the migrant worker rally, and you spoke to some of the Burmese who saw Aung San Suu Kyi. What did they say?
Jeanne Marie Hallacy, Journalist & Documentary Filmmaker:
It was a day where you could just feel the excitement in the air. It was palpable. These were people that had come out, several thousand workers, some of them had come straight from their shift, and they waited for hours to get a glimpse of this woman that they called "mother." They were shouting out her name. They were singing the national anthem.
And one young woman who I met was holding up a pencil drawing that she told me her brother had made, who had passed away several years ago. He was working in a factory. She's a housemaid. And she had just hoped that she could get a glimpse of Daw Suu to ask her to come over and sign this portrait that he had made of Daw Suu to show her how much she was loved by her family. She then burst into tears when Daw Suu came out on the balcony for a second time. She said to me, "I'm crying because of so much sadness, of all the pain we've endured, but also because of all the hope that we have." And that was such a telling story.
This was a kind of emotion that was coming out, and it's the type of emotion that a leader like Aung San Suu Kyi can evoke from her people.
How have the Thais been responding to Suu Kyi's visit in the social media?
Jeanne Marie Hallacy:
Social media in Thailand has been buzzing with Suu Kyi's visit here. One of the tweets that we saw described her as an iron lady, willing to do anything for her country and her people. Whereas they said our lady is only doing for her brother, which is former Prime Minister Thaksin. They went on to say that she's a dutiful sister, but not qualified as a prime minister.
Another tweet referred to the fact that Aung San Suu Kyi had such a clear ideology. And they commented on the fact that she dressed simply, like Uncle Ho, yet she had such a strong ideology. And it ended by saying that the sun has risen with Suu Kyi's visit.
And finally, one of the other tweets that we saw was saying that the fact that Suu Kyi chose to go out to a migrant worker area showed that only leaders who deeply care about their people would think that way.
I think it's also a reflection of Thais' feelings in these last, very tumultuous years that they don't have a leader with that type of vision and that type of conviction, who are in touch with the grassroots people and what their needs are.
Great, thanks so much Jeanne Marie. Jeanne Marie Hallacy is a journalist and documentary filmmaker based out of Thailand. You can learn more about her on our experts page.