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Obama “hopeful” on Myanmar, Suu Kyi urges caution

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Exuding warmth:U.S. President Barack Obama greets affectionately Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Monday.—PHOTO: AFP
Exuding warmth:U.S. President Barack Obama greets affectionately Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon on Monday.—PHOTO: AFP

President Barack Obama urged Myanmar on Monday to hasten its “remarkable” reforms and met Aung San Suu Kyi at the home where she was long locked up.

The trip, the first to Myanmar by a U.S. President, came as the regime freed dozens more political prisoners to burnish its reform credentials and after the U.S. joined other Western powers in relaxing its sanctions.

Mr. Obama met Myanmar’s reformist President Thein Sein and called on the former general to speed up the march out of decades of iron-fisted military rule.

Over the past few decades, “our two countries became strangers”, said Mr. Obama.

“But today, I can tell you that we always remained hopeful about the people of this country. About you. You gave us hope. And we bore witness to your courage.”

Mr. Obama made a brief visit to Shwedagon Pagoda, a gold-plated spire encrusted with diamonds and rubies that is the spiritual centre of Myanmarese Buddhism.

He later stood side by side with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where his fellow Nobel laureate languished for years under house arrest.

Freedom chant

Crowds could be heard chanting “Obama, freedom” in the streets nearby.

Ms. Suu Kyi for her part sounded a note of caution about the sweeping changes.

“The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight,” she said. “We have to be very careful that we’re not lured by the mirage of success.”

The White House hopes Mr. Obama’s visit will strengthen Thein Sein’s reform drive Mr. Obama has stressed his visit is not an “endorsement” of the regime but “an acknowledgement” of the reform process. Mr. Obama urged an end to sectarian unrest in Rakhine, saying there was “no excuse for violence against innocent people“.

The setting for the speech was rich in symbolism. The university was the scene of past episodes of pro-democratic student unrest, including mass demonstrations in 1988 that ended in a bloody military crackdown.— AFP

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