Could Myanmar's decades-long political deadlock be heading toward a resolution? It's a faint hope that few in the repressive country dare speak out loud, but one that grew slightly Sunday as freed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and the regime of Senior General Than Shwe traded gentle words about each other.
In her first speech since being released from house arrest - a performance that was both understated and electrifying - Ms. Suu Kyi was coy about what specifically she will do with her new freedom, but made it clear she will continue her long fight for change in the country better known as Burma.
"Please do not give up hope, there is no reason to lose heart," she told a crowd of thousands that overcame their fear of the ruling military junta to fill the streets outside the Rangoon headquarters of the National League for Democracy on Sunday, less than 24 hours after Ms. Suu Kyi was released from house arrest.
Addressing the jubilant crowd with a yellow flower tied in her dark hair, the woman they simply call "The Lady" also showed that she has lost none of her unrivalled charisma.
But she urged patience and sounded a conciliatory note toward the junta that stole her party's sweeping 1990 election victory and detained her for 15 of the 20 years since. She also hinted that she was willing to reconsider her long-standing support for international sanctions against the country, showing an awareness of how unpopular they've become among her impoverished fellow citizens.
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The Nobel Peace Prize laureate extended an olive branch to the regime, saying she harboured "no antagonism" over her long detention. "The security officials treated me well. I want to ask them to treat the people well also."
In an interview with the BBC, Ms. Suu Kyi said she wanted to meet face-to-face with Myanmar's ruling generals. "I think we will have to sort out our differences across the table, talking to each other, agreeing to disagree, or finding out why we disagree and trying to remove the sources of our disagreement," she said. "There are so many things that we have to talk about."
In what seemed to a sign that the junta may be feeling generous toward Ms. Suu Kyi, for now, the regime's official New Light of Myanmar newspaper highlighted her release and noted she had been pardoned "without grudge" due to good behaviour and that police "stand ready to give her whatever help she needs."
The newspaper added that Ms. Suu Kyi was being treated with leniency because she is the daughter of the nation's founding father, General Aung San, and "viewing that peace, tranquillity and stability will prevail and that no malice be held against each other."
Ms. Suu Kyi's release came less than a week after the junta held stage-managed elections - widely derided as a sham - that saw a pro-regime party claim nearly 80 per cent of the seats in the new parliament.
The National League for Democracy, the country's main opposition party, boycotted the campaign as unfair and has insisted the regime should instead honour the results of the 1990 vote. On Sunday, Ms. Suu Kyi again attacked the Nov. 7 election and said her party would form a committee to investigate widespread reports of fraud.
Though most observers expect Gen. Than Shwe to retain ultimate authority, optimists see the election as an attempt by the junta to create an exit strategy for itself. While the new government seems certain to be headed by ex-generals, the country of 50 million people will nonetheless soon make a transition - on paper anyway - to civilian rule after 48 years of direct military control.
The jubilant scenes in Rangoon as Ms. Suu Kyi was freed from detention Saturday triggered comparisons to Nelson Mandela's 1991 release from jail, a moment which marked the beginning of the end for apartheid South Africa. But Ms. Suu Kyi's carefully calibrated speech - restating her core convictions without directly attacking the regime - showed she understands well that her own long walk to true freedom hasn't ended yet.
Wearing a traditional blue dress as she addressed the crowd on a brilliantly sunny afternoon, Ms. Suu Kyi looked far younger than her 65 years. Though she had not given a speech in public since 2003, her voice was strong and steady throughout.
For the most part, the message of her nearly hour-long address was simple: Don't give up. Be ready to stand up for what you believe in. We don't have to live like this.
"You have to stand up for what is right," she said once she finally convinced the crowd to stop cheering and chanting her name. She added that she couldn't bring about change on her own. "A one-woman show is not a democracy."
The address was deliberately short on specifics, but tucked in among the words meant to inspire were a few key messages. To her own followers, she made it clear she had heard the grumbling over her support for international sanctions against the regime, which are increasingly controversial inside the country. She said she would consider calling for a lifting of the sanctions "if the people want."
She also tackled concerns that she might be out of touch after her long isolation, pledging to consult widely before she and the NLD leadership decide on their next move. "Please let us know what you are thinking, what is on your mind. I would like to know over the last six years what changes have taken place in the people and what they are thinking," she said.
Detained since 2003 at her family's dilapidated lakeside mansion in Rangoon, Ms. Suu Kyi had no access to a telephone or the Internet, and was only allowed visitors approved by the regime. She was previously forced to miss her husband's funeral while under detention, and has grandchildren she's never met.
The regime will likely have particular interest in Ms. Suu Kyi's hint about possibly calling for an end to sanctions. With the country's economy in tatters - Myanmar is one of the poorest countries in the world, with an average income slightly below that of Haiti - the possibility of ending international isolation may be carrot enough to convince the generals to engage with Ms. Suu Kyi.
But Ms. Suu Kyi's supporters remain suspicious of the junta's motives in releasing their wildly popular nemesis. "She's the one who enjoys the support of the whole country - not only the ordinary people, but the families of the military," said Soe Aung, a member of the Forum for Democracy in Burma, a Thailand-based exile group.
"I can't imagine they've stopped viewing her as an immediate threat."