BERN, Switzerland - A rock-star welcome greeted Aung San Suu Kyi as she embarked on her first trip to Europe in 24 years. But after a whirlwind of standing ovations, speeches, and receptions, it all became too much, and she fell ill Thursday during a news conference in Switzerland.
The Nobel Peace Prize laureate became sick shortly after saying how exhausted she was after her long trip from Asia to Europe, which brought her to Geneva late Wednesday night. It was not known how her apparent exhaustion would affect the rest of a tightly packed two-week schedule that includes delivering her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech in Oslo on Saturday, 21 years after winning the award.
Suu Kyi, 66, looked pale as she took questions Thursday evening 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 later but then retired to her room.
“She’s just a bit tired,’’ spokesman Jean-Marc Crevoisier said. “I would be too after the long day she’s had.’’
Earlier, the woman who has become an icon for the democracy movement had blamed age and lack of travel for her tiredness.
“Having stayed in one place for so long I found the plane journey out to the West extremely exhausting and a little bit disorienting, because I couldn’t adjust to the new time as quickly as I might have 24 years ago,’’ Suu Kyi told reporters. “It may, of course, have something to do with age.’’
Her appearance at a UN labor conference - an improbable venue for glitz and glamour - had starry-eyed functionaries reaching for their camera phones to snap a picture as Suu Kyi smiled and shook hands with well-wishers.
“You fill this room with the light of your spirit,’’ said Juan Somavia, the International Labor Organization’s director general.
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 Myanmar, has become the country’s most electric ambassador.