London: Aung San Suu Kyi on Thursday urged the world to help Myanmar complete its journey towards democracy as she became the first foreign woman to address both houses of Britain's parliament.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate said it was an "extraordinary honour" to speak in parliament's Westminster Hall in London, a rare privilege few foreign dignitaries are afforded.
Since World War II, US President Barack Obama, Pope Benedict XVI, South African president Nelson Mandela and French president Charles de Gaulle are the only other foreigners to have addressed both houses in the 11th-century hall.
"I am here in part to ask for practical help, help as a friend and an equal," Suu Kyi told around 2,000 lawmakers and guests, who gave her a standing ovation that echoed around the cavernous hall.
"Our own determination can get us so far; the support of the people of Britain and the peoples around the world can get us so much further," added Suu Kyi, who was wearing a purple longyi skirt and white scarf.
The opposition leader was freed from nearly two decades of house arrest in November 2010 and became a lawmaker earlier this year as part of a gradual transition towards democracy after years of military rule in Myanmar.
The speech was the climax of her first visit in 24 years to Britain, where she studied and lived for several years until she answered the call of duty in Myanmar, leaving her children and her English husband behind.
Suu Kyi earlier held talks with British Prime Minister David Cameron at his 10 Downing Street office, and with heir to the throne Prince Charles and his wife Camilla at their Clarence House official residence, where she planted a tree in the garden.
Mr Cameron defended his decision to invite Myanmar President Thein Sein to Britain for talks, given that he was, until last year, a member of the junta that held Myanmar in its thrall for more than two decades.
"There is a process of reform in Burma. In order for that to succeed we have to work with the regime," he told a press conference with Suu Kyi.
Mr Cameron in April became the first Western leader in decades to visit Myanmar -- a former British colony that was previously known as Burma -- during which he met both Suu Kyi and Thein Sein.
Suu Kyi backed the decision to invite Thein Sein, saying: "We don't want to be shackled by the past. We want to use the past to build up the future."
Suu Kyi was only the fifth foreign dignitary since World War II to address both houses of parliament in Westminster Hall, and the honour has only ever been given to heads of state in the past.
Others who addressed both houses -- elsewhere in parliament -- include the Dalai Lama, Jacques Chirac, Bill Clinton, Mikhail Gorbachev, Boris Yeltsin, Kofi Annan, Ronald Reagan, Francois Mitterrand, Haile Salassie and Nikita Kruschev.
Queen Elizabeth II is the only other woman who has addressed both houses.
John Bercow, speaker of parliament's lower House of Commons, called Suu Kyi "the conscience of a country and a heroine for humanity".
Suu Kyi said that the progress of democracy in Myanmar was still fragile.
"My country today stands at the start of a journey towards, I hope, a better future," she said.
She asked for "support for the reforms which can bring better lives, greater opportunities, to the people of Burma who have been for so long deprived of their rights and their place in the world."
On Tuesday, Suu Kyi made an emotional return to Oxford, the southern English city where she studied, met her late husband Michael Aris and brought up their two sons.
She said she was deeply moved on Wednesday as she received an honorary doctorate in civil law. The award was conferred in 1993 but she was unable to collect it at the time, fearing that if she left Myanmar the junta would not have allowed her to return.
Suu Kyi will head to France on June 26 for the last leg of her European tour, following a warm welcomes in Ireland, Norway and Switzerland.
On Saturday, she finally delivered her Nobel Peace Prize speech in Oslo, 21 years after winning the award while under house arrest.
Her visit to Britain has been clouded by continued violence in western Myanmar where dozens of people have been killed and an estimated 90,000 people have fled clashes between Buddhist Rakhines and stateless Muslim Rohingya.
Story first published:
June 21, 2012 21:38 IST