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Obama: ‘ will support Myanmar every step of the way’
In a speech broadcast live by the Myanmar authorities yesterday, he praised the Thein Sein government for the sweeping reforms it has introduced since it was elected to office in 2010.
"Today, I have come to... extend the hand of friendship," said Obama, becoming the first sitting US president to visit the country, as part of a three-stop tour that covers Bangkok and Phnom Penh, where he will attend the East Asia Summit today.
But he also sounded a few words of caution.
"This remarkable journey has just begun, and has much further to go. Reforms launched from the top of society must meet the aspirations of citizens who form its foundation. The flickers of progress that we have seen must not be extinguished."
Referring to the ongoing conflict in northern Kachin state and sectarian killings in western Rakhine state, Obama called for tolerance, citing his country's own historical internal conflicts and how it had been possible to transcend them.
The colour of his skin would have once denied him the right to vote, the US President said.
"So I believe deeply that this country can transcend its differences... No process of reform will succeed without national reconciliation," he added, as the audience broke out in applause.
Earlier yesterday, Obama arrived in Yangon, where crowds of well-wishers and schoolchildren waving US and Myanmar flags turned out to welcome him.
His first stop was the old Parliament house, where he called on his counterpart, Thein Sein. Myanmar released dozens of political prisoners yesterday to coincide with the visit.
Speaking to reporters after the meeting, Obama broke US tradition by referring to the country as Myanmar, which pleased the government.
"I've shared with him the fact that I recognise this is just the first step on what will be a long journey. But we think a process of democratic and economic reform here in Myanmar that has been begun by the President is one that can lead to incredible development opportunities."
Thein Sein, speaking through a translator, indicated his country's commitment to strengthening ties with the US.
Obama also met opposition leader and democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi at her lakeside house after making a brief stop to visit the storied Shwedagon Pagoda.
In brief remarks after the meeting, Suu Kyi struck a note of cautious optimism, saying: "The most difficult time in any transition is when we think success is in sight. Then we have to be very careful that we are not lured by a mirage of success."
But she acknowledged that the US President's visit would ensure that bilateral ties progress in the right direction.
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