Sunday, June 3, 2012

ASSK Faces Westminster Hall Ban in London?

ASSK and British FM William Hague.
Hague’s fury at bid to downgrade Burma’s steel butterfly: Squabble breaks out as Aung San Suu Kyi faces Westminster Hall Ban

Foreign Secretary William Hague is involved in an extraordinary row with senior parliamentary figures – after they tried to ban Aung San  Suu Kyi from addressing MPs in  Westminster Hall.

The Burmese opposition leader has been allowed to leave her native country for the first time in 24 years and accepted an invitation to visit the UK later this month. 

The trip has been overshadowed by infighting which has even included a petty squabble about whether she should receive a trumpet fanfare.

Mr Hague – backed by David Cameron and Commons Speaker John Bercow – wanted her to be accorded the ultimate accolade of addressing both Houses of Parliament in historic Westminster Hall. But the Foreign Secretary was told by Lord Strathclyde, the Leader of the Lords, and Black Rod, the Queen’s official representative in Parliament, that it would be ‘inappropriate’.

They pointed out that the hall is traditionally reserved for addresses by the most iconic heads of state, such as Nelson Mandela and Barack Obama. And they suggested the Royal Gallery in the House of Lords – a smaller, less prestigious venue – would be more suitable.

Mr Hague then tried to effect a bizarre compromise under which the 66-year-old would be allowed to appear in the hall but would not receive the traditional fanfare.

Westminster Hall in London.
Black Rod, Lieutenant-General David Leakey, is understood to  have insisted that it would still ‘devalue’ the venue. He also argued she might not be able to attract a sufficiently large audience on a Thursday afternoon.

But Mr Bercow overrode the advice by announcing to MPs that the June 21 occasion would be held in Westminster Hall, and invited MPs to apply for tickets in ‘the usual manner’.  Commons sources say Lieut-Gen Leakey is ‘livid’ about being ignored.

Aung San Suu Kyi was just two when her father, the country’s independence hero General Aung San, was assassinated in July 1947. She came to Britain in 1964 to study at Oxford University, where she met her husband, academic Michael Aris. The couple settled in the UK to raise their two children, Alexander and Kim.

But when she returned to Rangoon in 1988 to look after her critically ill mother, she led the revolt against then-dictator, General Ne Win. She was placed under house arrest, where she remained for 15 of the next 24 years, unable to see her sons or her husband, who died of cancer in 1999. Finally, she was released in November 2010, shortly after elections that saw a transition from military to civilian rule.

Aung San Suu Kyi was elected to parliament in April and, shortly afterwards, Mr Cameron paid an official visit and invited her to visit the UK.

Black Rod David Leakey and Speaker John Bercow.
By addressing Westminster Hall, Aung San Suu Kyi will outrank  such figures as the Ethiopian emperor Haile Selassie, Russian president Nikita Khrushchev, US presidents Ronald Reagan and Bill Clinton and French presidents Francois Mitterrand, Jacques Chirac and Nicolas Sarkozy – all  received in the Royal Gallery.  Mr Cameron will be flying back from a G20 summit in Mexico in order to witness the occasion.

Lieut-Gen Leakey has proved  a controversial figure since his appointment as Black Rod in February 2011. Earlier this year he was accused of ‘acting like a dictator’ by peers over his strict enforcement of  parliamentary rules.    

A Foreign Office spokesman said: ‘It is for the parliamentary authorities to decide on the correct protocol for such visits, but discussions have taken place with the Foreign Office.’

Last night Black Rod denied making any objections to ASSK appearing in Westminster Hall - but confirmed that she would not be greeted by trumpeters.