MAHACHAI, Thailand — In a demonstration of her popular appeal, Myanmar de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi received a rapturous welcome Thursday as she presided over a town hall-style meeting with some of the huge population of migrant workers from her homeland who eke out a living in Thailand.
Her meeting with countrymen in the Thai port town of Mahachai, where many work, reprised a similar meeting in 2012 that drew tens of thousands. The numbers this time appeared to be lower, but the level of adulation was high, as the cheering crowd had to be held back from mobbing her.
Overshadowing her visit — though not addressed by her or her Thai hosts — is her government’s treatment of the Rohingya, a Muslim minority of about 1 million who generally have been deprived of citizenship under Myanmar law and are targets of discrimination and violence.
Suu Kyi spoke to several hundred people in a meeting hall for 20 minutes before stepping down from the stage in frustration at a faulty sound system to engage face-to-face with members of the audience, who gave her questions and comments about what she could do to help their lives.
A large crowd of several thousand waiting outside burst into cheers and song as she was leaving, after staying for the duration of her meeting even as heavy rain poured on them.
When Suu Kyi last visited Thailand four years ago, it was as head of her country’s opposition party to offer moral support to her countrymen who work here in menial jobs, often in exploitative conditions.
She arrived back as her country’s elected leader to tackle on an official basis the problems faced by Myanmar migrant workers the government estimates to number 1.4 million but advocates say is at least twice that.
The trip puts her in the spotlight as questions have arisen about her government’s policies, particularly toward the Rohingya minority.