The Burmese military authorities have released the pro-democracy leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from house arrest.
Appearing outside her home in Rangoon, Ms Suu Kyi told thousands of jubilant supporters they had to “work in unison” to achieve their goals.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years. It is not yet clear if any conditions have been placed on her release.
US President Barack Obama welcomed her release as “long overdue”.
UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon said Ms Suu Kyi was an “inspiration”, and called on Burma to free all its remaining political prisoners.
The decision to free 65-year-old Ms Suu Kyi comes six days after the political party supported by the military government won the country’s first election in 20 years. The ballot was widely condemned as a sham.
For more than 24 hours crowds of people had been waiting anxiously near Ms Suu Kyi’s home and the headquarters of her now-disbanded National League for Democracy (NLD) party for news of her fate.
Many wore T-shirts sporting the slogan “We stand with Aung San Suu Kyi”.
Hundreds of people are refusing to go away – at this extraordinary moment of history – they keep saying they are very happy.
They are standing outside the house that has been Aung San Suu Kyi’s prison for so many years and is now her home.
It took about half an hour after the release before she came up to the gate and tried to address the crowd – and it took a long time to quiet the crowd so she could speak.
She looked extremely happy, very emotional, and the whole crowd is grinning from ear to ear. Plain clothes police were around but as soon as an opening appeared in the barricades, people just surged through. She has been released before and because of what she has said about peace and freedom and democracy she has been jailed again. We don’t know what is going to happen.
On Saturday afternoon, a stand-off developed between armed riot police and several hundred people gathered on the other side of the security barricade blocking the road leading to her lakeside home. Some of them later sat down in the road in an act of defiance.
As tensions rose, reports came in at about 1700 (1030 GMT) that official cars had been seen entering Ms Suu Kyi’s compound, and then that unnamed officials had formally read the release order to her. Hundreds of people then surged forward and rushed forwards to greet her. The ecstatic crowd swelled to three or four thousand before Ms Suu Kyi, in a traditional lilac dress, finally appeared, about 30 minutes later, on a platform behind the gate of her compound. She took a flower from someone in the crowd and placed it in her hair.
Ms Suu Kyi then tried to speak, but was drowned out by the noise of the crowd, many singing the national anthem and chanting her name repeatedly.
“I have to give you the first political lesson since my release. We haven’t seen each other for so long, so we have many things to talk about. If you have any words for me, please come to the [NLD] headquarters tomorrow and we can talk then and I’ll use a loud speaker,” she joked.
“There is a time to be quiet and a time to talk,” she added. “People must work in unison. Only then can we achieve our goal.”
She then went back inside her home for the first meeting with NLD leaders in seven years. She also spoke to her youngest son, Kim Aris, who was awaiting her release in neighbouring Thailand. Ms Suu Kyi had two sons with late husband, British scholar Michael Aris. International leaders were quick to welcome Ms Suu Kyi’s release.
I salute her for her long struggle for people!