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Obama And Myanmar Pro-Democracy Leader Discuss Political Reforms

The two appeared together outside Aung San Suu Kyi's home, where they discussed the law that would prevent her from being president.

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President Barack Obama held a news conference Friday with pro-democracy and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi during his visit to Myanmar.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

The pair met privately before speaking to the press outside her Yangon lakeside home, in which she spent almost 15 years under house arrest.

The country – which had been ruled by a military junta for five decades — embarked on widespread political and economic reforms two years ago, which were seen as a big foreign policy achievement for President Obama.

However, two years on, the reforms have stalled, and the country's parliament is still largely filled with members of the military.

Suu Kyi dismissed rumors of tensions between her National League for Democracy party and the U.S.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

She said: "I would like to make it quite clear that the friendship between the United States and those who have been struggling for democracy in Burma is a very strong one."

The pair briefly met in the country's new capital Naypyitaw, but had more in-depth discussions about flagging political reforms during their meeting Friday.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

She said that the reform process is going through a "bumpy patch", but that this was "something we can negotiate with commitment and with help and understanding and with help from friends all over the world."

"Let us not exaggerate the differences and difficulties, but let as not exaggerate the rosy picture either," she added.

President Obama said: "Much hard work remains to be done and many difficult choices still lie ahead. The process for reform is by no means complete, or irreversible."


The pair also addressed the law that bars Suu Kyi from becoming President of Myanmar.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

Without specifically naming Suu Kyi, President Obama said: "I don't understand a provision that would bar someone from being president because of who their children are – that doesn't make much sense to me."

"From the point of view of democracy, it is not right to discriminate against one particular person," Suu Kyi said.

Many believe the law was specifically written to prevent the popular Suu Kyi becoming president.

President Obama also discussed the treatment of the long-oppressed Rohingya minority in Myanmar.

Kevin Lamarque / Reuters

He said: "Discrimination of the Rohingya or any other religious minority does not express the country that, in the long term, Burma [Myanmar] wants to be."

The current human rights crisis facing the Rohingyas in Rakhine state stemmed from the reaction to the rape and murder of a Buddhist woman by a group of Muslim men in 2012.

This sparked clashes that left hundreds dead and caused the displacement of 140,000.

The Myanmar government refuse to recognize the Rohingya, instead referring to them as Bengali, denying them citizenship and branding them illegal immigrants, despite having been in the country for several generations.

Francis Whittaker is a homepage editor for BuzzFeed News and is based in London.

Contact Francis Whittaker at

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