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March 14, 2009

Singapore to host ‘orchid-naming ceremony’ for Myanmar PM
Myanmar's Prime Minister Thein Sein will visit Singapore and Indonesia next week, just after regional group Asean urged its military junta to be inclusive in elections and to free political prisoners, reported Reuters.

Thein Sein's itinerary has not been made public, but Singapore's Botanic Gardens said it would host an "Orchid Naming Ceremony" for Thein Sein on Wednesday, as part of his official visit to Singapore and Indonesia, a spokeswoman told Reuters.

Myanmar ruling junta's newspaper New Light of Myanmar reported on Friday that Thein Sein, the number four in its hierarchy, would visit the two countries "in the near future".

His visit comes after a meeting of the Association of Southeast Asian leaders at the start of the month in Thailand, at which they backed stimulus plans, opposed protectionism and said they would coordinate policies to confront a deepening global financial crisis.

The 10 leaders of the Association of South East Asian Nations (Asean) urged military-ruled Myanmar "to be as inclusive as possible" in preparing for elections next year, allow all political parties to participate, and free political prisoners.

The problems with Myanmar illustrate the challenges Asean faces in becoming an integrated political and economic community. The Myanmar junta, which has ruled the former Burma since 1962, declined to recognise a 1990 landslide election victory of the opposition National League for Democracy and put its leader Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for most of six years.

The United States wants Asean, which includes Singapore, to press for reform and political progress in Myanmar. Last month it urged the generals to release more political prisoners.

Singapore, a strong US ally and a growing centre for wealth management, has opposed sanctions on Myanmar and is believed to be home to the generals' offshore bank accounts.

It is a tradition for Singapore to name orchids after visiting dignataries, but an exiled Myanmar politician condemned the orchid naming ceremony. "The naming of an orchid after PM Thein Sein could be worse than watering a poison ivy," said Soe Aung, a spokesman for Bangkok-based Forum for Democracy in Myanmar.

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