Myanmar leader Suu Kyi thanks supporters for 'unity' during genocide hearings

Myanmar's leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks during a press conference at the Presidential Palace in Naypyitaw, Myanmar, on Dec 17, 2019. PHOTO: AP

YANGON (REUTERS) - Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday (Dec 18) thanked supporters who staged large rallies on her behalf as she defended the country against genocide charges at The Hague, speaking to the nation for the first time since she returned on Sunday.

Gambia accused Myanmar of violating the 1948 Genocide Convention over a military campaign that drove more than 730,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

It has asked the International Court of Justice to order "provisional measures" to prevent more harm.

"The support of our people, given generously and unquestioningly ... was a great source of strength to us when we presented our case at the ICJ," Nobel laureate Ms Suu Kyi said in a televised address screened by the state broadcaster.

Ms Suu Kyi led a team to the Netherlands for three days of hearings last week, during which she denied genocide and argued the UN court should not have jurisdiction.

"Every country passes through difficult times and Myanmar is no exception. Such trials provide us with an opportunity to assess our strengths and weaknesses, to reinforce one and rectify the other," she said.

"The challenge we faced at the court actually emerged due not only to the crisis that happened in recent years, but also missed opportunities to handle fairly and constructively social issues, politics, and the economy, over many decades," she added.

Ms Suu Kyi was long feted in the West as a champion of human rights and democracy and was a high-profile political prisoner during 15 years of house arrest for her opposition to Myanmar's then ruling military junta.

She came to power after a landslide election victory in 2015 that ended half a century of army rule.

But her stance on the Rohingya issue has seen her stripped of many awards, calls for the Nobel committee to revoke her peace prize and strong criticism from former celebrity supporters and other organisations.

At home, however, Ms Suu Kyi, the daughter of Myanmar's founding father Aung San, is still revered by many.

The proceedings in The Hague galvanised supporters, who staged rallies across the country chanting "Stand with Suu Kyi" and waving flags.

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