Aung San Suu Kyi receives Congressional Gold Medal

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WASHINGTON -- Lawmakers united by their respect of Myanmar democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi presented her yesterday with Congress' highest civilian honor in a ceremony in the Capitol Rotunda, ahead of a meeting with President Barack Obama.

Suu Kyi said it was "one of the most moving days of my life." She was awarded the Congressional Gold Medal in 2008 while under a 15-year house arrest for her peaceful struggle against military rule.

Her long-awaited visit to America finally provided an opportunity to hand her the honor in person in Congress' most majestic setting, beneath the dome of the Capitol and ringed by marble statues of former presidents.

The 67-year-old Nobel laureate said it was worth the years of waiting, being honored "in a house undivided, a house joined together to welcome a stranger from a distant land."

Previous recipients of the medal include George Washington, Tibetan Buddhist leader the Dalai Lama and Pope John Paul II.

She then met privately in the White House Oval Office with Obama, another winner of the Nobel Peace Prize. Neither made formal comments to the photographers gathered briefly to witness the meeting.

The low-key nature of the meeting appeared to reflect concerns that Suu Kyi's Washington visit could overshadow Myanmar's reformist president Thein Sein, who attends the UN General Assembly session in New York next week, and still faces opposition within Myanmar's military to political reform.

At the medal ceremony, House and Senate leaders joined Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton in paying tribute to Suu Kyi. Speaker after speaker marveled that this was moment they thought they would never see: Suu Kyi before them, not only free but herself now a lawmaker.

"It's almost too delicious to believe, my friend," said Clinton, "that you are in the Rotunda of our Capitol, the centerpiece of our democracy, as an elected member of parliament."

Buddhist monks in saffron robes and women in traditional Burmese dresses crammed into the venue alongside members of Congress, who set aside the intense rivalries ahead of the Nov. 6 election.

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