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Last-minute preparations under way for Aung San Suu Kyi's speech

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Tuesday, September 25, 2012 - 7:30 pm

Elizabeth Sidell, 48, was first in line at Memorial Coliseum on Tuesday morning to hear Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi speak. Sidell arrived at 3:30 a.m.

The massage therapist and Buddhist said, "She's such a living embodiment of not only freedom but of nonviolent" protests, among the ranks of Mohandas Gandhi, she said.

As of a little before 5:30 a.m., only Sidell and another woman were in line to hear the Burmese democracy leader speak. Suu Kyi, who had been held under house arrest for most of two decades in her homeland by the junta-run government, is scheduled to speak at 9 a.m. to an estimated 6,000 Burmese, 1,000 schoolchildren and 3,000 others. Admission is free; but parking fees apply.

The former political prisoner's visit to Fort Wayne, part of a trip to the U.S. that included a stop in Washington to receive a congressional medal of honor and those to Burmese in New York and San Francisco, has drawn national media coverage, with Voice of America and Channel NewsAsia, which broadcast to Burma along with countries from South Korea down to Australia, here.

Channel News Asia will broadcast Suu Kyi's speech live. Her talk will be in Burmese, then a translator on site will send her speech to WBGH Boston, which then will send a signal back to the coliseum so the translation will appear on the coliseum's scoreboard, said Nathan Dennison, coliseum spokesman..

Several Allen County Sheriff's Department officers and Allen County Homeland Security Director Bernie Beier as security is tight. Attendees are asked not to bring bags or bulky items.

Members of a welcoming committee handed out stickers with the flag of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, including a woman who said she was a former prisoner and showed a scar on her head.

Chaw Eimahn, who goes by the English name Cindy, came from Canada to hear Suu Kyi. "This is a once-in-a-lifetime for her to speak," said Chaw Eimahn, who left Burma for Canada at age 15 about 16 years ago. Asked what she remembers most of Burma, she said, "Not being free. There you have to watch what you say," said the senior manager for a retail company. That is what Suu Kyi represents, she said, "freedom of speech."

At 7:30 a.m., Burmese, students and others with special seating poured into the coliseum. Many wore traditional dress from Burma, renamed Myanmar by the ruling junta, and carried flags of Suu Kyi's NLD political party,

Soe, who was born in Burma, his daughter, Theresa, who was born in Fort Wayne, and wife, Ratana, who was born in Thailand, waited for Suu Kyi to speak. They wore shirts of Suu Kyi and her party. "She can change all our country," Soe said.

Ayla Aung, 16, came with her sisters and mother, who was born in Burma. A sophomore at South Side High School who was born in Thailand, said her mother has told her about life in Burma. "It's a very poor place and you should not take things for granted," she said.

Many nonBurmese attended the event, including former bishop of the Diocese of Fort Wayne-South Bend John M. D'Arcy and state Rep. Win Moses.

Olivia Hall, 17, a senior at Northrop High School, came with her government class. They had free admission and Fort Wayne Community Schools provided transportation.

John Moore, vice president of the Burmese-American Society, and his wife, Jackie, brought a Burmese family through the Reclamation of Friends' Circle of Friends program. The program has volunteers from Unitarian Universalist Congregation of Fort Wayne and Congregation Achduth Vesholom. Moore is helping the family, Mayee and her children, get acclimated to Fort Wayne. Daughter Remazabe graduated from North Side High School in June and Moore is helping her get a driver's license.