Myanmar's pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi addresses her supporters from her house compound after her release from house arrest in Rangoon yesterday

BURMESE pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi finally walked to freedom yesterday amid massive cheers from elated supporters who flooded the streets outside her home in Burma.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has been detained for 15 of the past 21 years, was greeted by jubilant crowds who had gathered in Rangoon in anticipation of her release.

A smiling Suu Kyi, wearing a traditional jacket and a flower in her hair, appeared at the gate of her compound as the crowd cheered and sang the national anthem.

"If we work in unity, we will achieve our goal. We have a lot of things to do," she told the well-wishers, who quickly swelled to as many as 5,000. Speaking briefly in Burmese, she said they would see each other again today at the headquarters of her political party.

The 65-year-old Nobel Peace Prize laureate, whose latest period of detention spanned seven-and-a-half years, has come to symbolise the struggle for democracy in the southeast Asian nation ruled by the military since 1962.

The release from house arrest of one of the world's most prominent political prisoners came a week after an election that was swept by the military's proxy political party and decried by western nations as a sham designed to perpetuate authoritarian control.

Campaigners, who lined the streets ahead of the release, had also gathered at the headquarters of her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), in a show of solidarity. There had been an increased police presence in the area, fuelling speculation that her time in detention was nearing an end. As her release was under way, riot police stationed in the area left the scene and a barbed-wire barricade near her residence was removed, allowing the waiting supporters to surge forward.

Her release was immediately welcomed by world leaders and human rights organisations. US president Barack Obama called Suu Kyi "a hero of mine" and said the United States "welcomes her long overdue release".

"Whether Aung San Suu Kyi is living in the prison of her house, or the prison of her country, does not change the fact that she, and the political opposition she represents, has been systematically silenced, incarcerated, and deprived of any opportunity to engage in political processes," Obama said in a statement.

While welcoming the news of Suu Kyi's release, Amnesty International warned that thousands of others were still incarcerated in Burmese prisons.

"People all over the world have been campaigning on behalf of this remarkable woman for two decades... Her release must not mean that we forget the other prisoners in Myanmar. Her release must be the first of many," said Colm O'Gorman, executive director of Amnesty International Ireland.

Foreign affairs minister Mícheál Martin welcomed the news and emphasised the strong support for her campaign in this country.

"The Irish people have a particular affection for Aung San Suu Kyi and her campaign has received strong support across Ireland. Eleven years ago, she was awarded the Freedom of the City of Dublin. In July 2009, she was declared the Amnesty International 'Ambassador of Conscience' at a concert in Croke Park. Unfortunately, the release does not, of itself, signify a move towards real reform in Burma. There are concerns she may remain under close watch and restrictions; that would be entirely unacceptable. More than 2,000 other prisoners of conscience remain in Burmese jails. Notwithstanding all of this, I believe that, if the regime is willing to change its policies, the release of Aung San Suu Kyi can be an important milestone for Burma."

Awaiting her release in Thailand was the younger of her two sons, Kim Aris, who is seeking the chance to see his mother for the first time in 10 years. Her late husband, British scholar Michael Aris, died of cancer in 1999 after having been denied visas to see his wife for the three years before his death.