News World Obama blunt on Myanmar reforms

Obama blunt on Myanmar reforms

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US President Barack Obama has given a blunt assessment of the need for further reform in Myanmar’s move toward democracy.

During his visit to the Southeast Asian country, he also weighed into sensitive controversies over the treatment of religious minorities and a rule keeping opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from standing for president.

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Suu Kyi, released four years ago from more than two decades of confinement, is a member of Myanmar’s parliament but is unable to stand in next year’s presidential election because of a constitutional rule barring anyone with strong allegiances to a foreign national from standing.

Suu Kyi’s sons are British, as was her late husband.

“I don’t understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are,” Obama said, with Suu Kyi by his side.

“That doesn’t make much sense to me.”

Obama and Suu Kyi took questions from reporters from the back patio of the house where she spent much of her time under house arrest.

He has been pressing Myanmar’s leaders to amend the constitution, but has been careful to not directly endorse his fellow Nobel peace laureate as the country’s next president.

He also raised her reluctance to address the abuse of minority Rohingya Muslims who are deeply disdained by most people in Myanmar.

“Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be,” Obama said.

Myanmar is also known as Burma.

Obama had broadly embraced Myanmar’s move away from a half-century of military rule, suspending US sanctions and rewarding the country with high-level visits from American officials.

But Myanmar has stalled in fulfilling its promises of political and economic reforms, and in some cases has lost ground.

“We shouldn’t deny that Burma today is not the same as Burma five years ago,” Obama said.

“But the process is still incomplete.”

Both Obama and Suu Kyi warned against complacency in the move toward democracy. Suu Kyi described the process as going through “a bumpy patch”.

Obama and Suu Kyi met briefly on Thursday on the sidelines of a regional summit in the capital city of Naypyitaw, and on Friday, Obama flew to the city of Yangon to hold more substantial talks with her.