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Friday, 14 November 2014

Obama Reaffirms Support for Myanmar’s Democracy Leader......

YANGON, Myanmar — President Obama paid his respects on Friday to this nation’s enduring symbol of democracy, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, reassuring her of America’s support for her and for Myanmar’s reform process, despite evidence of backsliding in its transition from military dictatorship.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, for her part, sought to smooth over suggestions of friction between her and the Obama administration after recent remarks in which she said the United States had been overly optimistic about the progress of Myanmar’s transition. Some took that to mean that Washington had been too lenient with the Burmese government about the pace of change.
“Please don’t worry,” she said at a news conference in the manicured garden of her lakeside villa here, with Mr. Obama standing beside her. “I always warn against over-optimism because it can lead to complacency. The reform process is going through, let us say, a bumpy path.”
Mr. Obama’s appearance with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi marked a day in which he also held a town-hall-style meeting with hundreds of young people from across Southeast Asia. At the University of Yangon, a storied center of democratic activism that was all but shut down during Myanmar’s years of military rule, Mr. Obama paced a room with a microphone, taking questions and addressing subjects ranging from climate change to the importance of treating minority groups fairly.
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Daw Aung San Suu Kyi said at a news conference with President Obama that Myanmar’s reform process “is going through, let us say, a bumpy path.”
During his earlier news conference with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the president acknowledged that progress toward democracy in Myanmar, also known as Burma, was falling short in several key respects, including its refusal to amend a constitutional provision that makes Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi ineligible to run for president, as well as the government’s unwillingness to curb widespread violence against the Muslim Rohingya minority in the country’s west.
Myanmar’s transition, Mr. Obama said, is “by no means complete or irreversible.” He singled out the violence against Muslims, saying that “discrimination toward the Rohingya or any other religious minority does not express the kind of country, over the long term, that Burma wants to be.”
The last time these two met, it was in the glow of Myanmar’s opening to the West after decades of repression — a remarkable turn of events that handed Mr. Obama a diplomatic victory and catapulted Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest to the political spotlight.
This time, they met as weathered politicians — both struggling with setbacks in the rough-and-tumble political landscapes of their home countries, both facing doubts about their skills and influence.
For Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, the troublesome issues are her battle with Myanmar’s treacherous constitutional reform process and her unwillingness to explicitly condemn violence against the Rohingya, who are deeply unpopular with the country’s Buddhist majority.
For Mr. Obama, it is his struggle to work with an incoming Republican-controlled Congress that has vowed to block his efforts to overhaul the nation’s immigration laws or to pass climate change initiatives. As Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi looked on with a slightly distracted expression, Mr. Obama answered a question about the political reception he will get back home next week, challenging the Republican leadership to bring him proposals on which the two parties can work together.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi poses something of a riddle for Mr. Obama. Her stature, as a Nobel Peace laureate who endured years of house arrest under military rule, is indisputable. He said he was baffled that Myanmar’s Constitution would prohibit her from running for president because her two sons hold British passports.
Yet her unwillingness to speak out more strongly about the violence against the Rohingya troubles American officials, who say the persecution is the biggest international blot on Myanmar’s reputation and, if unchecked, could deprive the country of support in the West.
Asked Friday about the violence, Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi spoke generally about the need to uphold the rule of law and said, “It is a duty of the government to make all our people feel secure.”
Mr. Obama touched on an extremely controversial issue simply by using the term Rohingya. Many Burmese view the group as interlopers from Bangladesh, and the authorities here insist that the outside world refer to them as Bengalis. When the secretary general of the United Nations, Ban Ki-moon, referred to them as Rohingya in a news briefing on Thursday, the Burmese government expressed “deep disappointment,” saying it would “inflame local sentiment.”
Still, Mr. Obama steered clear of exerting pressure on Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi on the issue of the Rohingya’s persecution. He hailed her for enduring years of confinement in her house without ever losing hope.
It was Mr. Obama’s second visit to the home of the woman known here simply as the Lady. He came in November 2012 with Hillary Rodham Clinton, who was then ending her stint as secretary of state and had forged a friendship with Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi in the course of her efforts to re-establish diplomatic ties with Myanmar.
Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi, wearing a turquoise wrap and cream-colored scarf, said Friday that her top priority was not winning elections but building a country where the rule of law prevailed.
“Please don’t worry about whether we will win the elections in 2015,” she said. “Winning is not everything. I’d rather lose than win in the wrong way. We want to win in the right way.”
As Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi and Mr. Obama spoke under a sweltering tropical sun, they faced construction cranes on the far shore of the lake — tangible evidence of how fast Yangon, Myanmar’s largest city, is developing.
Earlier, Mr. Obama, in sunglasses and shirt sleeves, toured the Secretariat, the grand colonial-era building where the British had their administrative headquarters and where Ms. Aung San Suu Kyi’s father, Aung San, was assassinated in July 1947.