French spirit inspired me, Aung San Suu Kyi says

PARIS Tue Jun 26, 2012 3:06pm EDT

1 of 3. Myanmar pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi (L) is welcomed by French President Francois Hollande as she arrives on the first day of a three-day visit at the Elysee Palace in Paris June 26, 2012.

Credit: Reuters/Gonzalo Fuentes

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PARIS (Reuters) - France's revolutionary spirit, art, literature and even its onion soup served as an inspiration to Myanmar pro-democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi during years of house arrest, she said on Tuesday.

Asked in Paris, as she nears the end of a 17-day European tour, what a visit to France meant to her, Suu Kyi, who studied the French language and culture during 15 years confined to her home, responded:

"Everything from Victor Hugo to onion soup."

"It would be difficult for me to say in a few short (words) what France means to me (but) the revolutionary spirit of France has always been inspirational to me in my political struggle," she told reporters during a joint news conference with France's new Socialist president, Francois Hollande.

Hollande welcomed the 67-year-old Nobel Peace laureate with full head-of-state honors during a visit that would have been unimaginable 19 months ago, when an authoritarian junta ruled Myanmar and confined her to her home.

Suu Kyi said that under house arrest she had immersed herself in learning French and understanding its literature and referred by name to Hugo, whose masterpiece "Les Miserables" depicts the struggle of the poor in 19th-century France.

"I am such an admirer of Victor Hugo because he understood that true revolution begins within yourself. So we have to make those that are not yet committed to the path of reform understand that a revolution from within themselves is the best way to improve the situation in the country," she said.

"A superficial acceptance of what is happening now is not enough."

While under house arrest, the Oxford graduate became an emblem of non-violent political resistance. After her release in November 2010, her National League for Democracy (NLD) party dominated April by-elections and threatens the military-backed ruling party ahead of a general election in 2015.

"I try to read a little bit of French everyday so I am always in touch with France and the thoughts and ideas that have made France one of the foremost champions of liberty in the world," she said.

(Reporting By John Irish; Editing by Michael Roddy)

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