Lords and MPs in standing ovation for Aung San Suu Kyi in Parliament

AUNG San Suu Kyi appealed to Britain “as friend and an equal” to support the people of Burma in their drive for democracy.At a historic gathering where Ms Suu Kyi became only the second woman, after the Queen, to address a joint session of both Houses of Parliament, the Nobel peace laureate said she was seeking practical help to address the problems still besetting her country.

In particular, she said she hoped the UK could help rebuild the education system while providing new investment for the future.

“I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal, in support of the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world,” she said.

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“My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future. So many hills remain to be climbed, chasms to be bridged, obstacles to be breached.

“Our own determination can get us so far. The support of the people of Britain and of peoples around the world can get us so much further.”

Ms Suu Kyi, who received a standing ovation from MPs and peers in a packed Westminster Hall yesterday, said the key to reform was the establishment of a strong parliamentary institution.

She said that after 49 years of direct military rule, it would take time for the country’s fledgling parliament to find its feet and its voice.

“Our new legislative processes, which are undoubtedly an improvement on what went before, are not as transparent as they might be,” she said.

“I would like to see us learn from established examples of parliamentary democracies elsewhere so that we might deepen our own democratic standards over time.”

The opposition leader praised President Thein Sein’s “sincerity” in taking steps towards reform.

She has spent only a “matter of minutes” in the Burmese parliament so far, and had found the atmosphere “rather formal”.

Ms Suu Kyi said she hoped Britain could play a particular role in developing Burmese education, which was currently “too narrow” and needed reform.

British businesses could also help the reform process in Burma through “democracy-friendly investment”. She said: “By this I mean investment that prioritises transparency, accountability, workers’ rights and environmental sustainability.”

The Burmese opposition leader said she first developed her understanding of parliamentary democracy through learning at Oxford about 19th-century British prime ministers William Gladstone and Benjamin Disraeli. She said Burma had not yet entered the ranks of truly democratic countries but added: “I am confident we will get there before too long, with your help.”