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September 26, 2017

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Swiss parliament gives Suu Kyi standing ovation

BERN -- A rapturous standing ovation greeted Aung San Suu Kyi at the Swiss parliament ahead of her departure for Oslo on Friday, after she cancelled her engagements the night before due to exhaustion.

The Myanmar democracy icon, who is on her first trip to Europe after years under house arrest, resumed her schedule after resting on Thursday evening following a packed day of speeches and receptions.

"She feels better, she has a little headache, the program is maintained as scheduled," said a member of her delegation who asked not to be named.

Suu Kyi visited Bern's Federal Palace, home to the Swiss parliament, on Thursday morning and was taken on a tour of the capital.

She is now en route to Oslo after taking a helicopter from Bern to Zurich airport, a government official said. Suu Kyi was scheduled to arrive in the Norwegian capital at about 4:00 pm (1400 GMT).

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who is in Europe for the first time in 24 years, had cancelled a dinner with Swiss President Eveline Widmer-Schlumpf in Bern on Thursday after cutting short a press conference where she had vomited.

Suu Kyi, 66, told reporters she was "totally exhausted" from traveling.

During her parliament visit the head of the lower chamber, Hansjoerg Walter, said it was a "great honor" that Switzerland had been the first country she chose to visit.

The engagement brought to an end her official stay in Switzerland, the first leg of the tour that also takes in Norway, Britain, Ireland and France.

On Saturday in Oslo Suu Kyi will personally accept the Nobel Peace Prize awarded in 1991 "for her non-violent struggle for democracy and human rights."

Suu Kyi was under house arrest at the time, after the military junta refused to acknowledge her opposition National League for Democracy's crushing election victory the previous year.

Swiss Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter confirmed on Thursday that Bern will open an embassy in Myanmar in November this year.

The government decided last month to lift all sanctions against Myanmar, with the exception of an arms embargo, and upped its development aid from 7 to 25 million Swiss francs (US$7.3 million to US$26.2 million) over the next four years.

Suu Kyi began her European trip Thursday in Geneva, when she called for "democracy friendly" investment in her impoverished country in a speech to an International Labour Organization conference, and a political settlement to end ethnic bloodshed.

"Foreign direct investment that results in job creation should be invited," she said, while urging coordinated social, political and economic policies "that will put our country once again on the map of the positive and the successful."

Her visit marks a new milestone in the political changes that have swept the country also known as Burma since decades of military rule ended last year, ushering in a quasi-civilian government and giving her party seats in parliament.

But as she departed for Europe, violence continued to shake western Myanmar, pitting Buddhist Rakhines against stateless Muslim Rohingya, adding to longer-running ethnic conflicts in other parts of the country.

More than 30,000 people have been displaced by the clashes in Rakhine state, where the government has declared a state of emergency, a senior local official said Thursday, while at least 29 people have been killed.

"Without the rule of law such communal strife will only continue," said Suu Kyi. "We need the cooperation of all peoples to bring this to an end."

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