Europe Welcomes Aung San Suu Kyi

Pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi will make a long-awaited acceptance speech in Oslo, Norway, on Saturday for the Nobel Peace Prize she was awarded in 1991. She's traveling outside Southeast Asia for the first time in 24 years.

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DAVID GREENE, HOST:

Europe this week is welcoming one of the world's most famous human rights activists. For the first time in 24 years, Aung San Suu Kyi is traveling outside of Southeast Asia, making stops in Switzerland, Norway, Britain, Ireland and France. She spent 15 years in detention or under house arrest by the authoritarian government in her country, Myanmar, which is also known as Burma.

We're joined now by NPR's Anthony Kuhn, who is in Oslo, where she's expected to receive the long-delayed award for a Nobel Peace Prize.

Anthony, good morning.

ANTHONY KUHN, BYLINE: Good morning, David.

GREENE: Well, how has the trip been going? What have been the highlights?

KUHN: Well, actually, she's recovering from some illness. She got sick at a press conference yesterday. She suffers from low blood pressure and from motion sickness. She's getting over that. She's due to give a press conference in the afternoon in Oslo, and tomorrow, Saturday, she's due to formally receive the Nobel Peace Prize, which she could not collect while she was under house arrest in 1991. It's a very tight itinerary. Her doctors are concerned about her. But she says she's getting better and will forge ahead with the trip.

GREENE: And has health been a concern for her in the past?

KUHN: Yes, it has. During the campaign she had some motion sickness. She got ill on a very grueling campaign schedule. And she turns 67 next week, so her doctors are concerned about her holding up under the stress.

GREENE: Well, Anthony, there's a lot going on back in Suu Kyi's home, in Myanmar. There've been some ethnic conflict. I mean, has that come up during her trip? And if so, what has she said about it?

KUHN: It really - it's the big issue in Myanmar at the moment and it threatens to overshadow her visit to some extent. And she was asked about it at a press conference in Geneva yesterday. And she said what's needed in this case are precise laws on citizenship.

Well, she didn't answer the main question, which is whether the minority in question, the Muslim Rohingya minority, are citizens are not. And some of her most staunch human rights activists are spouting some anti-immigrant rhetoric. She has skirted this issue and not really given a clear answer on it.

And if the violence spread, says President Thein Sein, it could threaten the political reforms which are underway there. So it's a crucial issue and she has been very delicate in her treatment of it.

GREENE: That's something politicians in every country are familiar with, when things back at home can kind of distract from a foreign trip. You know, I wonder, Anthony, I mean this has been an extraordinary transition for her, to go from democratic protestor to politician, you know, out on the world stage. What has struck you as she's gone through that transition?

KUHN: Well, in her favor, you know, she's a consummate statesman and she's a wonderful ambassador for Myanmar on the world stage. And she has wowed audiences, particularly on her past trip to Thailand. At the same time, she is a symbol of non-violent protest, and that's very different from coming up with concrete policies. And so she's really going to be tested on how she deals with these national crises, such as the ethnic clashes going on in western Burma.

GREENE: Anthony, thanks so much for talking to us.

KUHN: You're welcome, David. Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

GREENE: That's NPR's Anthony Kuhn in Oslo, Norway. He's been updating us on Myanmar's Aung San Suu Kyi and her tour through Europe. Aung Sun Suu Kyi's itinerary also includes a visit to Oxford University and the grave of her husband, a scholar who died in 1999. She left behind her husband and two sons in 1998 to care for her ailing mother in Myanmar.

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