Burmese democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will address both houses of Britain’s parliament Thursday, a rare honor normally reserved for visiting heads of state.
The Nobel laureate’s speech at the historic 11th century Westminster Hall is part of her first trip to Britain since leaving the country 24 years ago to lead Burma’s pro-democracy movement.
Aung San Suu Kyi, who spent much of the next two decades in detention under Burma’s former military rulers, will also meet with Prime Minister David Cameron on Thursday.
The two last met in Burma in April, when Mr. Cameron announced the lifting of sanctions against the Southeast Asian country in recognition of its recent political reforms.
On Wednesday, Aung San Suu Kyi was awarded an honorary doctorate from Oxford University, where she studied and lived with her family for years before returning to Burma in 1988.
She said in her acceptance speech that Oxford “stood up and spoke for her” during her long years of isolation under house arrest in her homeland, saying she survived the imprisonment partly because of what she learned at the university.
Aung San Suu Kyi also said that Burmese President Thein Sein should not view the warm welcome she has received during her 17-day tour of Europe as a challenge.
In a television interview, the democracy leader said the reception is a sign of “how much the world wants Burma to change in the right direction.” She also said she does not view her new position as a perilous one.
“I think of it as a challenge. It’s a challenge not just to me and my party but it’s a challenge to the government as well, and of course to the people in general, because they must play their part.”
A nominally civilian government came to power last year, as the country’s long-ruling military junta stepped aside. Aung San Suu Kyi — released from house arrest in November 2010 — won a parliament seat in an April elections.
Her tour of Europe has also included visits to Switzerland, Ireland and Norway, where she received the 1991 Nobel Peace Prize denied her while under house arrest.