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Aung San Suu Kyi

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(CC) Photo: World Economic Forum/Sikarin Thanachaiary
Aung San Suu Kyi at the World Economic Forum.

Aung San Suu Kyi (born 19th June 1945) is the de facto civilan leader in Burma (she has no control over the military). She first became involved with the pro-democracy movement when she returned from the United Kingdom to take care of her ailing mother. For 15 years of the period from July 1989 to November 2010, she was placed under house arrest by the Burmese military government after founding the National League for Democracy, which won an overwhelming victory in the 1990 general elections. In April 2012, she was elected to the Burmese Parliament. She is the recipient of several awards, including the Nobel Peace Prize; she used the $1.3 million prize money to establish a health and education trust for the Burmese people. She has recently come under criticism for denying that her country's military (with largely unorganized civilian ground support) have been engaging in ethnic cleansing, and some of her international honours are being revoked as a consequence.

Family and early life

(CC) Photo: Stephen Brookes
Aung San Suu Kyi at her home in September 1996, after a government crackdown on her party.

Aung San Suu Kyi was born on 19th June 1945 in the former capital city of Rangoon, the third child of General Aung San and Ma Khin Kyi. She was named "Aung San" after her father and "Kyi" for her mother, with "Suu" from her grandmother, which is also the day of the week of her birth.

Her father was an important figure in Burmese history, who led the country's struggle for independence and founded the modern Burmese army. He initially sought help from Imperial Japan to organize military resistance against British colonial rule. The Japanese occupied Rangoon in March 1942 and declared Burma's independence on August 1, 1943, upon which Aung San was appointed the war minister. As he was sceptical of the Japanese intentions regarding Burma and their chance of winning the war, Aung San established contact with the British authorities in India and staged a revolt on the side of the Allies on 27th March 1945. In September 1946, General Aung San was appointed the deputy chairman of the Executive Council of Burma by the British and in effect became Burma's first prime minister. He undertook negotiations with the British and signed an agreement on 27th January 1947 promising Burma's independence within a year, but, with his assassination on 19th July 1947, Aung San did not live to see a fully independent Burma.

Ma Khin Kyi was also a politically active parent. Before serving as the head nurse at the Rangoon General Hospital, where she became acquainted with General Aung San, she was a member of women's political groups. The couple often hosted political gatherings in their home. After General Aung San's death, Ma Khin Kyi, who would eventually be referred as Daw Khin Kyi - Daw is an honorific meaning "aunt," which would also be given to Aung San Suu Kyi - became a welfare director and was later elected to the Parliament, from 1947 to 1952. She was appointed president of the Women’s Association in 1958 and Ambassador to India in 1960, where she would be joined by her daughter as a university student.