World News

Burmese President's White House Visit a Reward for Reforms

Burmese President Thein Sein is visiting the White House on Monday, becoming the first leader of his nation to do so in nearly half a century. It marks the latest U.S. effort to reward him for introducing reforms after decades of military rule.

President Barack Obama's invitation to his Burmese counterpart to meet at the White House also represents a rapid diplomatic boost for Thein Sein, whom the United States removed from a blacklist of foreign officials denied entry to the country only last year. Mr. Obama previously recognized Burma's reform efforts by making the first visit to that nation by a sitting U.S. president last November.

The White House says Mr. Obama is committed to supporting countries such as Burma that make a decision to "embrace reform."

But, rights groups accuse Mr. Obama of sending the wrong message to Burma. They say Mr. Thein Sein's White House invitation reduces pressure on him to release political dissidents and stop alleged rights abuses against Burma's ethnic minorities.

Some U.S. lawmakers also have said they will try to slow the process of lifting U.S. sanctions on Burma to keep the pressure on Mr. Thein Sein to address those concerns.

Some analysts say the Obama administration wants to help Mr. Thein Sein to overcome resistance within the Burmese military toward further democratic change. They say the U.S. embrace of Burma also is part of a strategy to boost ties with Southeast Asian nations as a counterweight to China's growing regional power.

The White House said Mr. Obama and Mr. Thein Sein planned to discuss "many remaining challenges to (Burmese) efforts to develop democracy, address communal and ethnic tensions, and bring economic opportunity" to the Burmese people.

President Thein Sein addressed some of those issues at a town hall meeting at the Voice of America on Sunday.

He said ethnic violence against minority Muslims in western Burma is criminal behavior, not civil strife. He also acknowledged what he called "heavy-handed" actions by some police in their efforts to control political dissent in his country. But, he said both protesters and police must understand their responsibilities as democracy takes hold.

Mr. Thein Sein told a group of about 30 Burmese living in the United States that the development of democracy in their homeland must go hand in hand with economic development, which he said must be a priority.

U.S.-based group Physicians for Human Rights released a report Monday, accusing Burmese authorities of standing by while militants attacked an Islamic boarding school in the central town of Meiktila in March. It said the assailants killed at least 20 children and four teachers.

The report's lead author Richard Sollom said President Obama should use Monday's meeting to "persuade Burma's leader that the only path from tyranny to democracy is through the promotion and respect of human rights." Sollom also called on President Thein Sein to support an independent investigation into the Meiktila killings and to "bring perpetrators to justice and speak out forcefully against ongoing anti-Muslim violence."

Burmese authorities have repeatedly disputed accusations by rights groups that security forces ignore or participate in the violence.

Washington has been re-engaging the Burmese government since a long-ruling military junta stepped aside in late 2010 and permitted democratic elections the following year.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdrawsi
Jim Malone
October 09, 2015 12:32 AM
The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video House Republicans in Chaos as Speaker Favorite Withdraws

The Republican widely expected to become the next speaker of the House of Representatives shocked his colleagues Thursday by announcing he was withdrawing his candidacy. The decision by Majority Leader Kevin McCarthy means the race to succeed retiring Speaker John Boehner is now wide open. VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone reports.

Video German, US Officials Investigate Volkswagen

German officials have taken steps to restore some of the reputation their car industry has lost after a recent Volkswagen diesel emissions scandal. Authorities have searched Volkswagen headquarters and other locations in an effort to identify the culprits in the creation of software that helps cheat on emission tests. Meanwhile, a group of lawmakers in Washington held a hearing to get to the bottom of the cheating strategy that was first discovered in the United States. Zlatica Hoke reports.

Video Why Are Gun Laws So Hard for Congress to Tackle?

Since taking office, President Barack Obama has spoken out or issued statements about 15 mass shootings. The most recent shooting, in which 10 people were killed at a community college, sparked outrage over the nation's gun laws. But changing those laws isn't as easy as many think. VOA's Carolyn Presutti reports.

Video Hungary Criticized for Handling of Refugees

Amnesty International has accused Hungary of breaking multiple international and European human rights laws in its handling of the refugee crisis. As Henry Ridgwell reports, thousands of migrants and refugees continue to travel through the Balkans to Hungary every day.

Video Iraqi-Kurdish Teachers Vow to Continue Protest

Sixteen people were injured when police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse teachers and other public employees who took to the streets in Iraq’s Kurdish north, demanding their salaries from the Kurdish Regional Government (KRG). VOA’s Dilshad Anwar, in Sulaimaniya, caught up with protesting teachers who say they have not been paid for three months. Parke Brewer narrates his report.

Video Syrian Village Community Faces Double Displacement in Lebanon

Driven by war from their village in southwestern Syria, a group of families found shelter in Lebanon, resettling en masse in a half-built university to form one of the biggest settlements of its kind in Lebanon. Three years later, however, they now face being kicked out and dispersed in a country where finding shelter as a refugee can be especially tough. John Owens has more for VOA from the city of Saida, also known as Sidon.

Video Bat Colony: Unusual Tourist Attraction in Texas

The action hero Batman might be everyone’s favorite but real bats hardly get that kind of adoration. Put more than a million of these creatures of the night together and it only evokes images of horror. Sarah Zaman visited the largest urban bat colony in North America to see just how well bat and human get along with each other.

Video Device Shows Promise of Stopping Motion Sickness

It’s a sickening feeling — the dizziness, nausea and vomiting that comes with motion sickness. But a device now being developed could stop motion sickness by suppressing certain signals in the brain. VOA’s Deborah Block reports.

Video Making a Mint

While apples, corn, and cranberries top the list of fall produce in the US, it’s also the time to harvest gum, candy, and toothpaste—or at least the oil that makes them minty fresh. Erika Celeste reports from South Bend, Indiana on the mint harvest.

Video Activists Decry Lagos Slum Demolition

Acting on a court order, authorities in Nigeria demolished a slum last month in the commercial capital, Lagos. But human rights activists say the order was illegal, and the community was razed to make way for a government housing project. Chris Stein has more from Lagos.

Video TPP Agreed, But Faces Stiff Opposition

President Barack Obama promoted the Trans-Pacific Partnership on Tuesday, one day after 12 Pacific Rim nations reached the free trade deal in Atlanta. The controversial pact that would involve about 40 percent of global trade still needs approval by lawmakers in respective countries. Zlatica Hoke reports Obama is facing strong opposition to the deal, including from members of his own party.

Video Ukranian Artist Portrays Putin in an Unusual Way

As Russian President Vladimir Putin was addressing the United Nations in New York last month, he was also being featured in an art exhibition in Washington. It’s not a flattering exhibit. It’s done by a Ukrainian artist in a unique medium. And its creator says it’s not only a work of art - it’s a political statement. VOA’s Tetiana Kharchenko has more.

VOA Blogs