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Tens of thousands cheer as Suu Kyi speaks

DAWEI, Myanmar -- Seas of euphoric supporters waved opposition party flags and offered yellow garlands. They lined crumbling roads for miles and climbed atop trees, cars and roofs as Aung San Suu Kyi spoke at impromptu rallies. Some cried as her convoy passed.

Cheered by tens of thousands, the opposition leader electrified Myanmar's repressive political landscape everywhere she traveled yesterday on her first political tour since her party was registered to run in a historic ballot that could see her elected to parliament for the first time.

"We will bring democracy to the country," Suu Kyi, 66, said to roaring applause as her voice boomed through loudspeakers from the balcony of a National League for Democracy office in the southern coastal district of Dawei. "We will bring rule of law . . . and we will see to it that repressive laws are repealed."

As huge crowds screamed "Long Live Daw Aung San Suu Kyi!" and others held banners saying "You Are Our Heart," she said: "We can overcome any obstacle with unity and perseverance, however difficult it may be."

Suu Kyi's campaign and by-elections due April 1 are being watched closely by the international community, which sees the vote as a crucial test of whether the military-backed government is really committed to reform.

The mere fact she was able to speak openly in Dawei, and supporters were able to greet her en masse without fear of reprisal, was proof of dramatic progress itself. The new government has surprised its toughest critics by releasing political prisoners, signing cease-fire deals with rebels, increasing media freedoms and easing censorship laws.

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