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U.S. President Pays Historic Visit To Burma

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi meets with U.S. President Barack Obama in Rangoon.
U.S. President Barack Obama has met with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during a historic trip to Burma (also known as Myanmar).

On November 19, Obama visited Suu Kyi at her home in Rangoon (also known as Yangon) where she spent nearly 15 years under house arrest, calling her an "icon of democracy."

His six-hour visit to the Southeast Asian nation is the first by a sitting U.S. president.

Obama told Suu Kyi that Washington strongly backed Burma's reform drive. "Our goal is to sustain the momentum for democratization," he said.

"That includes building credible government institutions, establishing rule of law, ending ethnic conflicts, and ensuring that the people of this country have access to greater education, health care, and economic opportunity," he added.

Burma's leaders have introduced sweeping reforms aimed at improving the dismal human rights record acquired over decades of military rule.

Suu Kyi was released in 2010 and has since gained a seat in parliament, and the military junta has made way for a nominally civilian government.

Obama's visit coincided with the release of at least 50 Burmese political prisoners, including prominent dissident Myint Aye, from prisons across Burma.

Hope, Backed By Caution

For most people in Burma, Obama's visit marked the beginning of a new era of openness for the country, formerly treated as an international pariah.

Tens of thousands of people chanting "freedom" lined the streets of Rangoon to welcome the U.S. president.

Some human rights groups, however, say Burma's government, which still holds some 200 political prisoners and is struggling to contain ethnic violence, hasn't done enough to earn a visit from Obama.

Suu Kyi herself sounded a note of caution.

"The most difficult time in any transition is when we think that success is in sight," she said.

"Then we have to be very careful that we're not lured by the mirage of success and that we are working toward genuine success for our people and for the friendship between our two countries."

Earlier on November 19, Obama met with President Thein Sein, who has orchestrated much of his country's transition to democracy.

The U.S. president ended his visit with a televised speech at a Rangoon university in which he offered a "hand of friendship" and lasting U.S. support.

But Obama also acknowledged Burma's many democratic shortcomings and warned that its new civilian government must nurture democracy or watch U.S. support disappear.

His trip to Burma was part of a four-day tour of Southeast Asia that began in Bangkok and will end on November 20 in Cambodia, where he will attend an East Asia summit.

With reporting by AP, Reuters, AFP, and dpa
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