Suu Kyi falls ill during news conference

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi fell ill during a news conference in Switzerland on Thursday, shortly after saying how exhausted she was after a long trip from Asia to Europe — her first in 24 years.
Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi laughs during a news conference at the annual meeting of the International Labour Organization in Geneva on Thursday. (Laurent Gillieron, Keystone/Associated Press)

Burma opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi fell ill during a news conference in Switzerland on Thursday, shortly after saying how exhausted she was after a long trip from Asia to Europe — her first in 24 years.

After getting a rock star welcome in Geneva, the Nobel peace laureate looked pale as she took questions alongside Foreign Minister Didier Burkhalter in the Swiss capital of Bern. After a few minutes, she pressed a finger to her lips and motioned to an aide who rushed to her side. She then bent over, seemingly in pain, and threw up before being escorted out of the room by officials.

A spokesman for the Swiss Foreign Ministry said Suu Kyi recovered enough to briefly attend a reception with government officials but then retired to her room.

"She's just a bit tired," spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier told The Associated Press. "I would be too after the long day she's had."

Earlier Thursday, Suu Kyi had visited the United Nations in Geneva on the first stop of her two-week tour of Europe.

Her appearance at a UN labor conference — an unlikely venue for glitz and glamor — had starry-eyed functionaries reaching for their camera phones to snap a picture as the slight 66-year-old smiled and shook hands with well-wishers.

The Nobel Peace laureate is on her first trip to Europe in 24 years and her comments abroad are being closely watched by foreign governments and businesses eager to invest in Burma — which is also known as Myanmar  — as well as by the country's own reformist rulers wary of her status as political superstar.

Speaking calmly to a hall full of UN diplomats brimming with excitement at her presence, Suu Kyi delivered a thoughtful message on workers' rights and investors' responsibilities.

"I would like to call for aid and investment that will strengthen the democratization process," she told the annual meeting of the International Labor Organization in Geneva, which has long supported her cause. "We accept that investments must pay off," she added. "But we would like these profits to be shared between the investors and our people."

Suu Kyi highlighted the secrecy surrounding recent deals between China and the Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise. The state-owned company that all foreign firms seeking to tap into the country's oil and gas riches must deal with "lacks both transparency and accountability at present," she said.

The evening before, as Suu Kyi arrived at her hotel shortly before midnight after a long flight, spontaneous applause erupted in the lobby as the staff recognized their special guest.

Suu Kyi, who endured 15 years of house arrest and once feared permanent exile if she ever left  Burma — which is also known as Myanmar — has become the country's most electric ambassador.

Deliver Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech

During her trip around Europe, Suu Kyi is expected to lay out how her country has changed and what still needs to be done before it can be called a proper democracy. She will also address both houses of Britain's parliament, receive an honorary doctorate from Oxford, attend a U2 concert in Dublin and deliver in Oslo the acceptance speech for the Nobel Peace Prize that she won in 1991.

At the time, she was detained by the military after leading a pro-democracy party to victory in Myanmar's 1990 election. The prize was picked up instead by her 18-year-old son Alexander.

"I've been so exhausted preparing for the trip that I've had no time to think about how I'm going to feel about Oslo, but perhaps this evening I'll sit back and think about it," Suu Kyi told reporters after her speech to the U.N. labor office.

Suu Kyi hinted that her political ambitions may not stop at a supporting role in the new Burma.

"I do not stand here as a representative of the workers, or of employers, or of government," she told the ILO meeting. "Not yet anyway."

Asked later by The Associated Press whether she could forgive the junta for ignoring the outcome of the 1990 elections and keeping her under house arrest for 15 of the next 22 years, the woman who is seen as an icon of the democracy movement took the high road.

"In some ways I don't think they really did anything to me," she said.

"Well, they placed me under house arrest, but that gave me a lot of time to read," she added, wistfully. "I do not think I have anything to forgive them for."