Get the camera, here comes Aung San Suu Kyi

Associated Press
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi talks with a small group of Thai reporters after meeting with Thai Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung, unseen, at Government House in Bangkok, Thailand Thursday, May 31, 2012. (AP Photo)

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BANGKOK (AP) — Aung San Suu Kyi was the star attraction at Thursday's opening of the World Economic Forum, where the Myanmar opposition leader signed autographs and smiled politely for pictures with delegates from around the world.

Diplomats and businessmen in dark suits jostled to get in close, holding aloft their iPhones and BlackBerrys to get a picture of Suu Kyi, who is on her first trip outside of Myanmar in 24 years.

Speakers paid tribute to the poised and elegant Suu Kyi, wearing purple silk in the front row.

"It's a full house," said Surin Pitsuwan, the secretary-general of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations. "I don't know — can we panelists can claim credit for that? Or is it because of The Lady?"

Many in Myanmar refer to Suu Kyi as "The Lady" in a gesture of respect but also because for years it was considered dangerous to utter her name aloud. The country's former military rulers were so afraid of Suu Kyi's popularity that they locked her under house arrest for 15 out of 22 years, during which time she won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1991.

Suu Kyi was freed after Myanmar held elections in 2010. Since then, President Thein Sein has surprised much of the world by engineering sweeping reforms, including holding a by-election in April in which Suu Kyi won a seat in Parliament.

For her first outing on foreign soil, Suu Kyi on Wednesday visited downtrodden migrants who left Myanmar to find work in Thailand. She told them she would do all she could to reverse decades of economic ruin and make it possible for them to go home.

She planned to return to the area Thursday afternoon, after spending the morning at conference sessions on the global economy, Asian geopolitics and China's role in the region.

Escorted by security guards, she did not speak to the media. Nor did she raise her hand when panelists asked for questions — even when the topic turned to Myanmar.

"It feels a bit presumptuous to talk about Burma in front of Daw Suu," said U.S. Senator Susan Collins, who met with Thein Sein and other senior officials in Myanmar this week. Daw is a term of respect in Myanmar.

The U.S. recently eased sanctions it imposed on Myanmar during the military's regime but has said more reforms are needed before the sanctions can be lifted.

"My impression is that Burma is on a tipping point. I'm cautiously optimistic Burma will go in the right direction," Collins said, using the country's former name as many activists prefer. "We look forward to further advice and council from Daw Suu."

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