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UK to honour Suu Kyi at Westminster Hall

June 04, 2012 17:12 IST

In a break from parliamentary tradition, Myanmar's pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi will later this month be accorded the rare honour of addressing members in the historic Westminster Hall, which is reserved for iconic current or former heads of state.

Objections to inviting her to the Westminster Hall were reportedly raised by parliamentary officials, who offered the smaller and less prestigious Royal Gallery in the House of Lords for her address.

However, the objections were strongly overruled by House of Commons speaker John Bercow, supported by Prime Minister David Cameron and Foreign secretary William Hague.

Suu Kyi, who is neither a former or current head of state, will be the first such individual to deliver an address in the Westminster Hall, which is traditionally reserved for the most iconic heads of state, such as Nelson Mandela.

The most recent head of state accorded the honour was United States President Barack Obama during his visit here last year. Others who were accommodated in the Royal Gallery instead of the Westminster Hall include former Russian president Nikita Khrushchev, US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and French presidents Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy.

Westminster Hall, the oldest building on the parliamentary estate, has had a central role in British history. Major institutions of the British state -- parliament, the law courts and various government offices -- grew around the Hall over centuries.

Closely involved in the life of the nation since the 11th century, a journey through the Hall's past is considered a journey through 900 fascinating years of Britain's history. Cameron invited Suu Kyi to visit Britain during his visit to Burma in April.

During her visit here later this month, she is also expected to travel to her "beloved Oxford", where the university will honour her with a honorary doctorate in Civil Law, announced in 1993.

Suu Kyi studied, married and lived in Oxford for many years until 1988, when she left for Myanmar to visit her ailing mother. She is an honorary fellow of St Hugh's College, Oxford and of St Antony's College, Oxford, and patron of the International Gender Studies Centre in Oxford's Department of International Development.

Prasun Sonwalkar in London
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