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Democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi has dismissed criticisms of her leadership by insisting that she has always been a politician, rather than a human rights defender.
It follows accusations that the opposition leader has prioritised her presidential ambitions ahead of the protection of minorities in Burma. Many analysts say she has abandoned her principles in order to secure her political power base.
But speaking in an interview with CNN on Monday, Suu Kyi rejected suggestions that she has been forced to transition from activist to politician.
“I’m always surprised when people speak as if I’ve just become a politician. I’ve been a politician all along. I started in politics not as a human rights defender or a humanitarian worker, but as the leader of a political party. And if that’s not a politician then I don’t know what is.”
The Nobel laureate, who spent 15 years under house arrest at the hands of the junta, has taken an increasingly conciliatory tone towards the military-backed regime since joining parliament and publicly expressed hopes of running for president.
She was come under particular scrutiny for refusing to condemn the spread of anti-Muslim violence in Burma, which has claimed over 250 lives since last year. But Suu Kyi told CNN that she is accustomed to censure.
“I was subjected to the greatest criticisms for 20 years because some people said I was too intransigent, I was not as flexible with the government as I should have been,” she said.
Almost 140,000 Rohingya Muslims, who are denied citizenship and deeply unpopular in Burma, have been stranded in displacement camps in Arakan state since two bouts of clashes with local Buddhists last year.
Human rights groups have described the violence, which has since spread to other parts of the country and disproportionately targeted Muslims, as “ethnic cleansing”.
But in an interview with the BBC last week, Suu Kyi denied that ethnic cleansing is taking place, insisting that “the fear is not just on the side of the Muslims, but on the side of the Buddhists as well.”
It is widely believed that she fears losing her core electorate in the Buddhist-dominated country in the run-up to the 2015 general elections.
Suu Kyi is currently on a diplomatic tour of Europe, where she has met with political and religious leaders, as well as collected awards for her work promoting human rights and democracy in Burma.