Myanmar pro-democracy figurehead Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in the US for a comprehensive tour. She will attend nearly 100 events across the country. She landed as Myanmar's leaders released more political prisoners.
Suu Kyi's first official appointment is a meeting with Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Washington on Tuesday. The Myanmar opposition figurehead, recently elected a member of parliament after years under house arrest, will visit Congress to receive its highest honor - the Congressional Gold Medal - at the Capitol building on Wednesday.
There are no official plans for a meeting with President Barack Obama but he is expected to take some time out from his reelection campaign to meet a fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate.
Some of Suu Kyi's staunchest support as she spent much of the past two decades under house arrest hailed from the US. Democrat Representative Joe Crowley, a veteran supporter of human rights in Myanmar, called the visit "the culmination of an effort we've been part of for some time."
"The notion to have her here in the US Capitol, in the Rotunda, receiving the highest award that Congress can give on the heels of her spending a decade and a half under house arrest is just remarkable," Crowley said in an interview with the AFP news agency. "It just reiterates that by perseverance and fortitude, anything is possible."
Further, unnamed, releases in Myanmar
Suu Kyi touched down in the states hours after news that more prisoners had been freed in Myanmar, potentially including some of the country's remaining political prisoners.
State television published a government bulletin announcing that more than 500 prisoners had been pardoned on Monday, but did not make it clear who they were. Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy has since told Reuters that it is "optimistic" the releases include Myanmar's remaining political prisoners. Another democracy movement, Generation 88, told AFP that it knew of at least 15 political prisoners among those pardoned.
The state television report said the pardons were aimed at the "stability of the state, by respecting humanitarian grounds … and also to have friendship and goodwill in relations with neighboring countries," adding that several prisoners from abroad were among those released.
President Thein Sein, a former general in Myanmar's military leadership, has been making steps to reform government in the country - releasing Suu Kyi, allowing her to run for office and gradually releasing prisoners in Myanmar. The efforts have been rewarded with a loosening of international sanctions.
Suu Kyi herself, however, has often warned that the country is only beginning its journey towards more democratic governance.
msh/mz (AFP, AP, Reuters)