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Newly elected Suu Kyi ends Parliament boycott

BURMESE opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has agreed to end her party's boycott of parliament, setting aside her first major dispute with the Government since her party's victory in recent by-elections.

Ms Suu Kyi and newly elected members of the National League for Democracy (NLD) will make their parliamentary debut tomorrow after they backed down over the wording of an oath for new members of parliament.

She has now agreed to swear to protect the constitution, which Ms Suu Kyi had said was undemocratic and needed to be amended as it was drafted under super-vision of the military.

But the Nobel Peace Prize laureate said yesterday: "In politics, it is essential to give and take.

"As a gesture of respect to the desires of the people and in consideration of requests by lawmakers from democratic parties and independent lawmakers, we have decided to attend the parliament - We will go there as soon as possible and take the oath."

Ms Suu Kyi's change of heart came as UN Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon addressed parliament in the capital, Naypyitaw.

The NLD leader is due to meet Mr Ban in Rangoon today before travelling to Naypyitaw for tomorrow's swearing-in.

The NLD boycotted general elections in November 2010, when Ms Suu Kyi was under house arrest, saying the poll was rigged in favour of the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP).

The USDP won overwhelmingly, and the new Government, under President Thein Sein, embarked on political and economic reforms after 50 years of military rule, and persuaded Ms Suu Kyi to re-enter the political process.

The NLD won all but one of the 44 seats it contested at the April 1 by-elections after a campaign in which Ms Suu Kyi, who won one of the seats, made the amendment of the 2008 constitution a central theme.

The charter gives wide-ranging powers to the military, including the ability to appoint Cabinet members, take control in a state of emergency, and occupy one-quarter of seats in parliament.

With its eyes on political reform, the NLD had wanted to replace the words "safeguard the constitution" with "respect" in the parliamentary oath. The ruling, military-backed USDP rejected the reformers' demand.

Although the NLD has only a handful of seats compared to the USDP and the military, Ms Suu Kyi's presence in parliament will keep the focus on reforms and could lead to their acceleration.

As Burma moved towards liberalisation, the European Union, US and other countries eased sanctions. Had the dispute over the oath festered, it could have slowed the thawing in relations.

UN chief Mr Ban welcomed Ms Suu Kyi's announcement. "This is encouraging. I respect her decision. Leaders should work in the long-term interests of the nation," he said, shortly after addressing Burma's fledgling parliament –the first foreign dignitary to do so. He said it would now be easier for Mr Sein and Ms Suu Kyi to work together.

"Both leaders should fully co-operate and discuss all matters. There are always difficulties that can be overcome in the interests of the nation," he added.

In his speech to parliament, Mr Ban urged Western powers to ease sanctions further, and suggested the country could become a model for democracy after decades of repression and isolation under military rule.

Mr Ban said he had no doubt that, under the one-year-old civilian Government, Burma would catch up with its Asian neighbours, but he warned of "perils and pitfalls" on a difficult road.

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