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Military changed name to Myanmar without asking: Suu Kyi

Aung San Suu Kyi brushed off the Burmese government’s call for her not to use the word Myanmar for Burma on Tuesday, saying she can call her country whatever she likes.

Aung San Suu Kyi, the chairperson of the Burmese National League for Democracy and a member of Parliament, speaks at a Women's Forum dinner in France on Friday, June 29, 2012. Photo: Women's Forum for the Economy and SocietyLast week, election commission officials criticized Suu Kyi for repeatedly referring to Myanmar as Burma, the country’s former name, in her speeches during her five-country tour of Europe.

"I used that name freely in keeping with democratic principles,“ Suu Kyi said at her first press conference since her return to Rangoon on Saturday.

She noted that General Saw Maung failed to consult the Burmese people when he decided to change the country’s name from Burma to Myanmar in 1991.

The former military junta, which insisted on foreign governments referring to the country as Myanmar, made the name a political test.

In a commentary piece on THEWIP website on Monday, Cesar Chelala, writing about the flap, said Suu Kyi was within her rights and should continue to use the name, to express what has been worldwide condemnation of Burma’s former military regime. The military transferred some of its power to the newly elected Parliament, but still clearly controls what happens in the country.

“As the daughter of Aung San, considered the father of modern-day Burma who was a tireless fighter for democracy and human rights, nobody has greater moral authority than Aung San Suu Kyi to call the country by its former name,” he said.

"There is a strong emotional and moral connotation in the name Burma. It should continue to be called that way until effective democracy returns to the country and a national referendum is conducted on what to call it. If this enrages the military, it will still be a small price to pay for the brutality that for decades they have unleashed on the country.

Observers said this week that a linguistic controversy is distracting when people consider the serious problems facing the government, whose Parliament will reconvene on Wednesday.