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Burmese President Vows to Continue Democratic Reforms

Burmese President Thein Sein delivers his speech at Parliament in Naypyitaw, March 1, 2012.
Burmese President Thein Sein delivers his speech at Parliament in Naypyitaw, March 1, 2012.

Burmese President Thein Sein is urging patience as his government carries out a series of democratic reforms launched nearly a year ago.

The president, in an address to parliament Thursday, said the country faces a long and difficult road to fully transform itself after decades of military rule. He said there is more to be done, and called on all Burmese to participate in the transition.

"To achieve successful transition there are many more steps to be taken. We have to continue to work hard, to increase government capacity, to empower the legislative branch, to strengthen the rule of law, to boost private sector businesses, to empower the civil society, to improve basic and social infrastructure and to improve living standard of the people," he said.

Among the new changes, the government has eased restrictions on the press, released hundreds of political prisoners, and engaged in dialogue with democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. The Nobel Peace Prize winner is running for an open parliament seat in a by-election set for April 1.

In a related development Thursday, the exile news organization Democratic Voice of Burma said the new government has agreed to allow DVB journalists living abroad to enter the country on temporary permits to cover news events.

The Oslo-based radio and television broadcaster said Burmese Information Minister Kyaw Hsan conveyed the move to DVB chief editor Aye Chan Naing during the editor's ongoing visit to the country. The report said it was the journalist's first time in his homeland since fleeing a huge 1988 government crackdown on Burma's fledgling democracy movement.

The DVB report also noted that the status of its in-country reporters, who still operate clandestinely, could change in the near future. The report said the government has promised to "consider as soon as possible" the legal status of the entire news organization, which could lead to permits allowing the broadcaster to open a bureau in the country.

The government has also reached cease-fire agreements with several key ethnic rebel forces who have been fighting the military for decades. But fighting with ethnic Kachin rebels in northern Burma has continued.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.