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Suu Kyi to draw from Midwest, Canada

At least 7,000 people have indicated they will attend the Fort Wayne public appearance by Aung San Suu Kyi, organizers said Wednesday.

Memorial Coliseum will have more than 10,000 seats available for Tuesday morning’s program featuring the Burmese democracy leader and 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner.

U Tun Oo, part of a local Burmese welcoming committee, said at a Coliseum news conference that more than 5,000 Burmese from throughout the Midwest and 2,000 students from Allen County have expressed a desire to attend Suu Kyi’s speech and question-and-answer session.

“Especially in Fort Wayne, some companies excuse their employees,” Tun Oo said, including handbag maker Vera Bradley.

He and his daughter, May Ayar Oo, said people are coming from as far away as Toronto and Minneapolis.

The program for Suu Kyi – a former political prisoner elected this year to the parliament of Myanmar, formerly called Burma – will be from 9 to 10:45 a.m. Doors will open to the public at 7:30 a.m. There will be no admission charge, although Coliseum parking fees will be charged.

Organizers urged people wishing to attend the program to arrive early.

“We do expect lines on Coliseum (Boulevard). We do expect lines at the door” of the Coliseum, said George McClellan, vice chancellor for student affairs at IPFW.

Some seats will be reserved for students and welcoming committee guests, McClellan said. Otherwise, seating will be “first come, first served,” he said.

Randy Brown, general manager of the Coliseum, said he could not give details on security precautions for the event.

“Just plan to be screened. Plan to be searched,” Brown said.

Cameras will be allowed in the area, but no bags or bulky coats will be permitted, Brown said. An outside area will be designated for people to leave gifts and flowers they bring to show their support for Suu Kyi.

Suu Kyi’s remarks will be in Burmese and translated to English. She will be speaking from a stage on the north end of the arena.

People are invited to submit written questions for Suu Kyi on Facebook at suukyi.fortwayne.

Organizers stressed that plans and preparations are evolving.

“It’s a living, breathing, changing process,” McClellan said.

WFWA-TV, PBS 39, will provide a live broadcast of the program.

Tun Oo said Suu Kyi, who is on a three-week trip to the United States, will arrive in Fort Wayne on Monday and leave town the same day as her Coliseum appearance. No other events involving her are planned.

Sponsors are spending at least $8,000, most of it for Coliseum rent and translation services. Suu Kyi, who asked to speak in Fort Wayne, is not accepting an appearance fee.

For more on this story, see Thursday’s print edition of The Journal Gazette or visit after 3 a.m. Thursday.