Suu Kyi on first outing since release from jail

DEMOCRACY icon Aung San Suu Kyi will make her first political appearance outside Burma's main city today since her release from seven years of house arrest, a journey that is going ahead despite a government warning that it could trigger riots.

The opposition leader's one-day trip to meet supporters in two towns north of Yangon will test the limits of Suu Kyi's freedom.

The last time she travelled to the countryside, in 2003, supporters of the country's now-disbanded military junta ambushed her entourage. Suu Kyi escaped, but was detained and later placed under house arrest. She was released last November.

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The Nobel Peace Prize laureate's spokesman, Nyan Win, said he expected today's trip to go smoothly.

"We are not worried about security," Win said. "We will provide our own security and authorities will also co-operate with us."

The brief trip will take Suu Kyi about 50 miles north of the main city Yangon to the towns of Bago and Thanatpin, where she will meet party members and open two public libraries, Win said.

More trips will follow, but neither the dates nor the destinations have been decided upon, Win said.

Win Htein, a leader of Suu Kyi's party, said the trip was crucial because it "will test the reaction of the authorities and will test the response of the people".

He added, "This trip will be a test for everything".

After half a century of army rule, the country formerly known as Burma organised elections late last year and officially handed power to a civilian administration in March.

But critics say the new government, led by retired military figures, is a proxy for continued military rule and little has changed since.

Some 2,000 political prisoners remain behind bars, more than 100,000 refugees live in neighbouring countries and sporadic clashes have erupted in the north-east between government troops and ethnic militias who have been fighting for greater autonomy for decades.

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On Friday, however, Suu Kyi held her second meeting with labour and social welfare minister Aung Kyi.

The state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported yesterday that the two sides agreed to co-operate on national stability and development.