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Asean agrees Myanmar to be chair in 2014

media Myanmar's President Thein Sein attends at the Asean leaders meeting in … REUTERS/Romeo Gacad/Pool

Myanmar is to chair the Asean grouping of south-east Asian nations in 2014, the bloc’s leaders agreed Thudesday, boosting the government’s bid for international recognition of its tentative moves to reform.

"All leaders are in agreement that significant changes, significant developments, have taken place in Myanmar and those changes have made it more conducive for Myanmar to carry out this responsibility," Indonesian Foreign Minister Andy Natalegawa said at the summit on the island of Bali.

Myanmar’s military rulers are subject to international sanctions, accused of repressive policies.

But its government, which was sworn in eight months ago, has held direct talks with National League for Democracy (NLD) leader Aung San Suu Kyi, freed 200 political prisoners, frozen work on a controversial megadam and made the right to strike legal.

But some rights campaigners remain critical and the US President Barack Obama on Thursday said that his country would continue with a policy of sanctions and engagement.

Natalegawa said that the Asean, which generally prefers behind-the-scenes discussion to open pressure, wants to ensure “more democratisation” in Myanmar in 2014.

The US’s military presence in Asia will not be reduced, despite budget cuts aimed at reducing its massive 15-trillion-dollar (11-trillion-euro) debt, President Barack Obama declared on a visit to Australia Thursday.

“As we end today's wars, I have directed my national security team to make our presence and missions in the Asia-Pacific a top priority,” Obama told the Australian parliament. “Reductions in US defence spending will not - I repeat, will not - come at the expense of the Asia-Pacific."

Obama later visited Darwin, in Australia’s tropical north, where the US is to deploy 2,500 Marines, as part of his strategy to prioritise the Asia-Pacific region – a move that has worried China, which feels that its influence in the region may be targeted.

Obama said he wanted to “build a cooperative relationship with China” but added “we continue to speak candidly with Beijing about the importance of upholding international norms and respecting the universal human rights of the Chinese people”.

About 100 NLD leaders met on Friday in Yangon to discuss reregistering as a political party.

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