OSLO, Norway – It's been 21 years, and Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi is about to give her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech.
The 66-year-old champion of democracy is being feted this month in European capitals after spending most of the past two decades kept under house arrest by Myanmar's military-backed dictatorship.
Norwegian government leaders said they have eagerly awaited Saturday's speech at Oslo City Hall since Suu Kyi won the world's highest diplomatic honor in 1991. But Suu Kyi said she never doubted that she would travel one day to Oslo to give her honorific lecture.
"Yes of course, I always believed that. That's why I have always said that the first time I traveled abroad I would come to Norway," she said in answer to a reporter's question. "I never doubted that. Did you?"
Despite being under house arrest at the time, Suu Kyi did receive the actual prize in 1991 and used its cash reward to create scholarship programs for Burmese youth. Her two British-based teenage sons accepted the prize on her behalf in Oslo that year.
She arrived Friday in Norway from Switzerland, her first stop on a planned two-week tour of Europe also taking in Ireland, Britain and France. The journey is her first in Europe since 1988, the year she left her husband and two young sons in England to visit her ill mother back home — and became the focal point for the country's nascent democracy movement.
"You have dedicated your life to the struggle for democracy in your country, and you are an inspiration for all of us," Norwegian Prime Minister Jens Stoltenberg told Suu Kyi during a joint press conference Friday. "The new political reality in Myanmar is remarkable. We have witnessed great changes in less than a year. Your presence here in Oslo is proof that your long fight for democracy and justice for your people is really paying off."
Suu Kyi made it to Oslo despite falling ill Thursday at a press conference. Her aides said she was suffering from exhaustion due to overwork and jet lag. She appeared tired at Friday's Oslo events, including a nighttime castle dinner with Norway's King Harald and Queen Sonja, but made no comment on it.
After Saturday's Nobel speech, Suu Kyi is scheduled to tour an elaborate display at the fjord-side Nobel Peace Center chronicling her life's key moments of despair, determination and triumph, then address an outdoor rally at Oslo City Hall.
"(Her visit) means a lot to the Norwegian people because we admire her so much and we have longed to see her coming here and give her Nobel speech," said the executive director of the Nobel center, Bente Erichsen.
Suu Kyi is scheduled to spend three days in Oslo and the Norwegian city of Bergen, then travel to the Irish capital, Dublin, on Monday for a celebrity-studded concert in her honor with U2 frontman Bono. After that, it's back to Oxford University, where she studied before her 1980s blossoming into the leading voice for democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma.
Bono was expected to join her at an Oslo press conference Monday and then fly with her to Dublin, where he's to present her with another award postponed by her long home imprisonment — Amnesty International's Ambassador of Conscience. Bono unveiled that award at a Dublin U2 concert in 2009.
When asked if her euphoric European reception this week as Myanmar's rightful leader might upset the military junta back home and lead to renewed repression, Suu Kyi dismissed the prospect.
"I cannot see any good reason why either President Thein Sein and his government or the military should object to this," she said. "Certainly I don't think they have anything to fear in the interest that other countries show in my party and myself, because we want to work for national reconciliation. And we will not do anything to harm that."
Suu Kyi comes from one of Burma's iconic political families. Her father Aung San was an army general and a founding father of independent Burma, previously a British colony, following World War II but he was assassinated by rivals in 1947. Her mother Khin Kyi served in Burmese governments and as ambassador to India in the 1960s, giving Suu Kyi the opportunity to study and work abroad in India, England and the United States.
Myanmar's military rulers first jailed Suu Kyi in 1989, the year before her National League for Democracy triumphed in Myanmar's first open elections. The junta quashed that result, refused to surrender power, and did not hold new elections until 2010. U.N. and U.S. officials branded that vote fraudulent, partly because Suu Kyi was barred from running as a candidate.
Suu Kyi was released from house arrest in November 2010 shortly after the election. In April 2012 she won a seat in the country's national assembly, her first opportunity to run for office.