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Obama arrives for Malaysia talks

Barack Obama became the first US president to visit Malaysia in almost 50 years after he arrived for economic and security talks with prime minister Najib Razak.

Stepping onto a red carpet at the Royal Malaysian Air Base, Mr Obama was whisked by limousine to Kuala Lumpur's Parliament Square, where cannon salutes rang out as Mr Razak and Malaysia's king greeted him under muggy skies.

A military band played the US and Malaysian national anthems - twice - and Mr Obama inspected an elaborate honour guard in crisp green and white before the arrival ceremony came to a close.

Mr Obama's next stop was to be the Istana Negara, the National Palace, for an audience with Malaysia's royal family before he takes his seat later on Saturday at a state dinner in his honour.

During the two-day visit, which follows stops in Japan and South Korea, Mr Obama will also meet with citizen leaders and hold a town hall-style forum with young leaders from across the region.

However, the US president rejected calls from human-rights groups to meet with a prominent Malaysian opposition leader.

Mr Obama, in a written interview with the Malaysian newspaper The Star, said he was coming to Malaysia to continue the transformation in the US-Malaysia relationship.

"My main message is that the United States welcomes Malaysia's growing contributions to regional security and prosperity," Mr Obama said.

"I see my visit as an opportunity to formalise a comprehensive partnership and lay the foundation for even closer ties for years to come."

Trade, defence and maritime security are among the issues Mr Obama and Mr Najib were expected to discuss during talks scheduled for Sunday.

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Malaysia is one of a dozen countries involved in the Trans-Pacific Partnership free-trade negotiations, a major focus during Mr Obama's stop in Tokyo earlier in the week.

The US and Japan are working to overcome differences to pave the way for the broader, regional agreement to move forward.

Last month's disappearance of a commercial airliner carrying 239 people put Malaysia in the international spotlight as Mr Obama was preparing to head to the region.

The US is assisting in the massive search effort and the disaster was expected to be on the agenda during the visit.

Officials are widening the search area in a remote part of the ocean where the jet may have crashed.

In a sign of the ongoing agony, about 50 relatives of missing Chinese passengers continue a sit-in protest outside the Malaysian Embassy in Beijing, demanding answers.

The last US president to visit Malaysia was Lyndon B. Johnson in 1966.

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