YANGON, Myanmar — One day after her release from house arrest, the pro-democracy leader Daw Aung San Suu Kyi called on thousands of cheering supporters in Myanmar not to be afraid and to join her in her struggle for political change.
“If we want to get what we want, we have to do it in the right way,” she said Sunday. “The basis of democratic freedom is freedom of speech.”
Her release and her immediate return to her political activities set Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi on a path to a possible confrontation with the generals who had confined her to her home for 15 of the past 21 years.
But she said her priority was national reconciliation.
“I’m going to work for national reconciliation, that is a very important thing,” she said, adding: “There is nobody I cannot talk to — I am prepared to talk with anyone. I have no personal grudge toward anybody.”
Her release, just five days after an election that recast the structure of military rule in Myanmar, suggested that the regime was confident of its position and ready to face down the devotion she still commands both among her countrymen and among Western supporters.
But her connection with the crowd and their jubilant response illustrated the challenge that she poses to the ruling generals, who are hunkered in a fortified and isolated capital away from the main city, Yangon.
Sounding like a motivational speaker, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi repeated her message of hope and determination and talked about what it meant to be brave.
“I’d like to repeat again and again,” she said. “Don’t think that politics is not for you.”
She added: “Nobody can help you. You must do it for yourself.”
There was no visible police presence as she spoke outside her party’s headquarters in Yangon, except for officers trying to control backed-up traffic as the crowd filled an intersection. Many in the group pushed forward, hoping for at least a glimpse of perhaps the most famous person in the country.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi had been out of the public eye for more than seven years, since the start of her most recent term of house arrest.
“Be patient,” she said, promising to meet often with her supporters. “We have to do many things together.”
Joking that the crowd was too big for everyone to hear her, she held up a handwritten sign that said, “I love all of you.”
In what seemed a gesture of conciliation, a government-backed newspaper, The New Light of Myanmar, reported her release in positive terms Sunday morning, saying that she had been granted a pardon because of her good behavior and that the police stood “ready to give her whatever help she needs.”
The newspaper said she was being treated with leniency because she was the daughter of the nation’s founding hero, the assassinated general U Aung San, and “viewing that peace, tranquility and stability will prevail and that no malice be held against each other.”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi said she was prepared to reconcile with her captors.
“I harbor no bad feelings toward the government,” she said. “When I was under house arrest, I developed a relationship with the guards. We need to give thanks to those who deserve thanks.”
At a news conference later she said she would be willing to meet with anyone, including the leader of the junta, Senior General Than Shwe. “It will be very good if I can discuss with him the issues I care about,” she said.
She also said she would be willing to talk to Western nations about the possibility of lifting economic sanctions, which she has supported.
“If the people really want sanctions to be lifted, I will consider it,” she said. “This is the time that Burma needs help.”
Her speech had the characteristic buoyancy of her addresses in the past, and her exchanges with the crowd were sometimes emotional. She said she had been listening to radio broadcasts for as many as six hours a day while under house arrest in the hope of understanding the hopes and needs of the people.
“I need to know what you want first,” she said. “Do you know what you want?”
She pointed to a middle-aged man in the crowd and her aides handed him a microphone. “We love you very much!” the man said. “And we need democracy!”
The microphone passed to another man, who shouted wildly, “Today the entire country has been released from military slavery!”
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi paused without a smile, did not respond and then gestured that the microphone be given to a woman nearby. The woman wept and energetically told the democracy leader how much she admired her. “I love you more than I love myself,” she said.
In announcing her release, the government said Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi was being freed without conditions.
But one of her lawyers, U Kyi Win, said that even if no formal constraints were placed on her freedom, her movements could still be restricted, as they had been at times after her previous releases.
“She could go anywhere she liked, theoretically,” he said in an interview. “But in practice there were quite a lot of restrictions on her.”
Her most recent term of detention began in 2003 after she had drawn increasingly large and enthusiastic crowds as she toured the country. A band of organized thugs attacked her convoy in what some people believe was an assassination attempt, and she was sent first to prison and then back to house arrest.
The immediate response from Western capitals to her release was one of celebration. Her freedom has been their first demand in calling for political openness and respect for human rights in the nation also known as Burma.
“She is a hero of mine,” said PresidentBarack Obama of the United States, “and a source of inspiration for all who work to advance basic human rights in Burma and around the world.”
But Western leaders also made it clear that they would continue to assess the actions of ruling generals before they considered moderating a policy of isolation and economic sanctions against them.
“France will pay very close attention to the conditions in which Aung San Suu Kyi enjoys her newfound freedom,” PresidentNicolas Sarkozy of France said in a statement. “Any obstacle to her freedom of movement or expression would constitute a new and unacceptable denial of her rights.”
Amnesty International estimates that there are 2,200 political prisoners in Myanmar.
As Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi resumes her political activities, several analysts said, she will be re-entering a battleground more complicated and difficult than the one she had faced in the past.
“It’s certainly not going to be easy for her,” said Thant Myint-U, a historian and former U.N. official who has written widely on the country. “This is a very, very different political landscape than when she was released the last time,” he said. “The country is facing a whole slew of new challenges and opportunities.”
Though the newly elected Parliament is seen mainly as a mechanism for the military to legitimize its control, it nevertheless changes the political dynamic with new structures and personalities.
There will be new opposition parties, however small and weak; new political officeholders, however limited their scope for independent action; and the first generation of military who have not been schooled at all in the West and who perceive the United States as their biggest strategic threat.
A new world of charity and aid groups has emerged during the past seven years of her house arrest, leading to a more diffuse public arena.
“In many ways, Myanmar is not the isolated, closed off country that it was 10 or 20 years ago,” Mr. Thant said. “It’s a very complex place. I think we could say for sure that this year, these couple of years, are without a doubt the country’s most important watershed in a generation.”
Chinese aid, investment and influence have grown rapidly, and investment from other Asian nations, including India, is also playing a larger role in the economy.
“The biggest change is that the regime is flush with money and it’s much more self-confident than it used to be,” said Sean Turnell, an expert on the Myanmar economy with Macquarie University in Sydney. “It seems they are confident that they can weather her release.”
Income from new oil and gas pipelines may have made them feel invulnerable.
“I think it’s hubris,” Mr. Turnell added. “The gas revenues seem to be the basis for their confidence, and it wouldn’t take much at all for things to fall.”
Given the complexities of the demands she faces, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s new freedom may be a burden as much as it is a liberation.
“She’ll be facing a mountain of expectation and challenges,” said Aung Zaw, editor of The Irrawaddy, a magazine by Burmese exiles based in Thailand. “She is just a private citizen, but a lot of people still believe that she is the leader of the democratic movement. People want her to expand her leadership.”