| 4.7°C Belfast

Obama calls for reforms in Burma


Barack Obama with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP)

Barack Obama with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP)

Barack Obama with Burmese opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. (AP)

Barack Obama and Burma's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi have said they want to see more progress towards reform in the Asian nation.

The US president said that while important changes have been made, he and Ms Suu Kyi are clear about the challenges remaining.

The two spoke at a news conference after a private meeting at the lakeside home in Yangon where she spent much of her more than two decades in confinement.

Ms Suu Kyi opened by addressing reports of tension between the US and those working for democratic reforms in Burma. She said that although they may occasionally view things differently, the bond is very strong.

She added that the reform process is "going through a bumpy patch", and warned against too much optimism that could lead to complacency.

Mr Obama's blunt assessment of the need for further reform tapped into controversies over the treatment of religious minorities and a prohibition keeping Ms Suu Kyi from running for president.

Ms Suu Kyi, released four years ago, is now a member of Burma's parliament but is unable to run in next year's presidential election because of a constitutional rule barring anyone with strong allegiances to a foreign national from standing for the presidency. Her sons are British, as was her late husband.

"I don't understand a provision that would bar somebody from running for president because of who their children are," Mr Obama said, standing next to Ms Suu Kyi in the press conference. "That doesn't make much sense to me."

Mr Obama has been pressing Burma's leaders to amend the constitution, but has been careful to not directly endorse his fellow Nobel Peace Prize laureate as the country's next president. He also raised an issue that has led to criticism for Ms Suu Kyi - her reluctance to address the abuse of minority Rohingya Muslims who are deeply disdained by most people in Burma.

"Discrimination against the Rohingya or any other religious minority I think does not express the kind of country that Burma over the long term wants to be," he said. "Ultimately that is destabilising to a democracy."

On her ability to run for president, Ms Suu Kyi said it is flattering to have a constitutional provision written with her in mind but it is "not how a constitution should be written". The 69-year-old said she and her supporters are working to change it and welcomed Mr Obama's support.

"The constitution says all citizens should be treated as equals and this is discrimination on the grounds of my children," she said.