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Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi on Wednesday brushed off orders from the Burmese’s government to stop calling the country “Burma”, a name widely used by democracy campaigners to defy the former junta.
The old regime changed the country’s official name some two decades ago to Myanmar, saying “Burma” was a relic from British colonial rule and implied the diverse land belonged only to the Burman ethnic majority.
The country’s election commission castigated Suu Kyi last week for repeatedly using the term during recent overseas trips, accusing her and the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) of flouting the constitution.
But a defiant Suu Kyi told reporters in Rangoon that she would call the country whatever she liked.
“In a democratic nation, things should be done after viewing the desire of the people,” she said, adding the army had renamed the country without consultation.
“Freedom of speech… and the right to speak one’s mind freely doesn’t insult anyone. This is also about democratic principles and policy.
“So I assume that I can use whatever I want to use as I believe in democracy.”
Suu Kyi and the NLD fiercely opposed the name change, denouncing it as a symbolic step by the generals towards creating a new country.
Global leaders have also struggled with what to call the country, which is emerging from decades of army rule under the guidance of reform-minded Prime Minister Thein Sein.
Britain’s David Cameron calls the country “Burma” while recent speeches by US President Barack Obama have also referred to its colonial name.
But his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton chose a more diplomatic path on a trip to the nation in December, employing the term Burma but saying it sparingly, generally preferring to dodge controversy by saying “this country”.