PATHEIN, Myanmar (AP) — Nobel Peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi hit the campaign trail Tuesday as an official candidate for upcoming elections, traveling to the Irrawaddy delta for the first time in two decades.
Cheering crowds greeted Suu Kyi's convoy at every major town and city along her four-hour drive south from Yangon to an area that was devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.
Supporters waved bouquets of roses and yelled, "We Love Mother Suu!" as the 66-year-old pro-democracy advocate drove past, sometimes rising from her car's sun roof to greet supporters with a smile.
Suu Kyi's return to politics is another test of the reforms of the new nominally civilian government that took power last year after decades of military control. Her latest trip came a day after the Election Commission formally accepted her candidacy for an April parliamentary by-election.
Suu Kyi last visited the Irrawaddy region during a campaign tour in 1989, when soldiers in the town of Danuphyu briefly pointed their rifles at her. It was one of several dramatic confrontations with the ruling military junta ahead of 1990 elections, which Suu Kyi's party won but the junta refused to recognize.
The upcoming by-election is being held to fill 48 parliamentary seats vacated by lawmakers who were appointed to the Cabinet or other posts.
Suu Kyi is running for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon, but has embarked on a national campaign to lobby support for other members of her opposition National League for Democracy party.
The new government's rapid reforms have surprised even some of the country's toughest critics. It has released hundreds of political prisoners, signed cease-fire deals with ethnic rebels, increased media freedoms and eased censorship laws.
Myanmar's government hopes the changes will prompt the lifting of economic sanctions imposed under the junta's rule. Western governments and the United Nations have said they will review the sanctions only after gauging whether the April polls are carried out freely and fairly.
On Monday, Washington eased one of its many sanctions as a reward for the country's progress.
U.S. Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton signed a waiver that should make it easier for Myanmar to secure help from the World Bank and other international financial institutions by lifting U.S. opposition to them conducting assessments.