Aung San Suu Kyi began a bittersweet return to Britain yesterday, during which she will be showered with honors and have an emotional family reunion after nearly a quarter of a century in Myanmar.
The democracy icon arrived in Britain overnight from Ireland, where she took to the stage at a gala concert with U2 singer Bono to receive a prize from rights group Amnesty International.
She was later given the freedom of the city of Dublin at a special ceremony and crowds joined in singing Happy Birthday as she was given a cake to mark her 67th birthday, which was yesterday.
In Britain for the latest leg of a 17-day tour of Europe, Aung San Suu Kyi was to begin with a panel debate at the London School of Economics yesterday.
Later in the day she will attend a family reunion in Oxford, where she studied at the prestigious university and lived for several years with the late Michael Aris, her English husband and father of her two sons.
The chancellor of Oxford University, former Hong Kong governor Chris Patten, will formally welcome her yesterday, as will the head of her former college, St Hugh’s.
Oxford University — where she studied politics, philosophy and economics — will award her an honorary doctorate in civil law today and she will also deliver a speech in the grand surroundings of the 17th century Sheldonian Theatre.
Spy novelist John le Carre will receive an honorary degree on the same day.
Tomorrow, Aung San Suu Kyi is to address both houses of parliament in London — an honor only granted to high-profile foreign dignitaries such as US President Barack Obama.
She will also meet British Prime Minister David Cameron and heir to the throne Prince Charles.
Aung San Suu Kyi said at the weekend that she hoped the trip to Oxford in particular would not be “tinged with sadness.”
She spent nearly 20 years in the city as a housewife and mother, and when she left for Myanmar to care for her dying mother in 1988 she had no idea that it would be 24 years before she would return.
Aung San Suu Kyi became the leader of the country’s democracy movement against its military rulers, spending most of the following decades under house arrest. She refused to leave the country, fearing that the junta would prevent her from returning and keep her in exile.
The painful result was that she only saw her husband and children a handful of times in the intervening years. Aris died of cancer in 1999, having told her not to come back but to continue her struggle.
Her younger son Kim, now 35, still lives in Oxford and is expected to attend the reunion, but it was not clear if her older son Alexander, 39, who reportedly lives in a Buddhist retreat in Portland, Oregon, would be there.
In Ireland, Aung San Suu Kyi received Amnesty International’s Ambassador of Conscience Award at a concert with performances by stars, including Benin singer Angelique Kidjo and US rapper Lupe Fiasco.
She won the award in 2009, but was under house arrest in Myanmar at the time.
“To receive this award is to remind me that 24 years ago I took on duties from which I shall never be relieved, but you have given me the strength to carry out,” she said.