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Aung San Suu Kyi in Fort Wayne

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to about 5,000 people at Memorial Coliseum this morning, thanking Fort Wayne for hosting and educating Burmese refugees and inviting them to "look back to Burma." Video footage by Swikar Patel. Still photos by Swikar Patel, Cathie Rowand and Samuel Hoffman. Video production by Laura J. Gardner.

Samuel Hoffman/The Journal Gazette
Aung San Suu Kyi is greeted on the stage at Memorial Coliseum in Fort Wayne.

'Look back to Burma,' Suu Kyi says in Fort Wayne

Sarah Janssen/The Journal Gazette
Students from North Side and Northrop high schools have begun filling in the reserved-seating section of the arena for the speech.
Samuel Hoffman/The Journal Gazette
Mya Ain waits for Aung San Suu Kyi to arrive at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday. On her cheek is the fighting peacock flag, the symbol of the Burmese democracy leader.

Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to about 5,000 people at Memorial Coliseum this morning, thanking Fort Wayne for hosting and educating Burmese refugees and inviting them to "look back to Burma."

If those who have left Burma wish to return, Suu Kyi said she would "do my best to achieve this goal."

Calling the United States "the greatest democracy in the world," she said it was teaching her country how to be a democracy -- through discussion and debate, negotiation and compromise.

She also said service provided joy and satisfaction, and said she hoped opportunities would exist for Burmese refugees living outside Fort Wayne.

Suu Kyi spoke for about 10 minutes, partly in English and partly in Burmese, before taking questions from the audience.

She referred to the country as Burma, its former name. It now is known internationally as Myanmar.

Suu Kyi was welcomed by Fort Wayne Mayor Tom Henry, Sen. Dan Coats, R-Ind., IPFW Chancellor Vicky Carwein and other dignitaries.

"We are now at the most important and delicate juncture" of the transformation to democracy, Suu Kyi said.

"Now we have to sort out what is really necessary, what is really progress, from what seems to be necessary and seems to be progress."

She asked her audience to keep up its awareness of what is happening in Burma, and not just on the surface.

"Real progress is improvement in the lives of ordinary people," Suu Kyi said.

She also said:

  • It's important to preserve the culture of all races.
  • Burma needs to amend or change its constitution to give equal opportunity.
  • Even if you fail, have the courage to go on.
  • Good leaders must be honest with themselves and others.
  • Burma needs to tailor its education system to be among the best in the world and suited to the country. At one time it was among the world's best, but it deteriorated under military rule, she said.
Suu Kyi said her opposition party was "not yet the government of Burma," and even if were in control, questions about democracy should be answered through the rule of law, the end of ethnic persecution and amendments to the country's constitution.

Suu Kyi answered questions for nearly an hour. Those written in Burmese were answered in that language, and questions written in English were answered in English. In some cases, translation from Burmese to English appeared on screens in the arena and on WFWA-TV, Channel 39, which broadcast her appearance live. In other cases, the translation did not appear, or appeared after a lengthy delay.

Fort Wayne resident Elizabeth Sidell was first in line to get a seat.

Sidell said she arrived by bicycle at 3:30 a.m. She said she was alone until a line of people started forming shortly after 5 a.m.

"I'm just a fan of Aung San Suu Kyi," Sidell said. "This is like having Nelson Mandela here.... It's unbelievable that she is here."

Students from Fort Wayne Community Schools, East Allen County Schools, Smith Academy and Northern Wells Community Schools were among the audience.

For more on this story, visit later today or see Wednesday's print edition of The Journal Gazette.

Brian Francisco, Sarah Janssen and Tom Pellegrene Jr. of The Journal Gazette contributed to this story.