| 19.3°C Dublin

Obama issues democracy call to Burma before historic trip

US PRESIDENT Barack Obama has arrived in south-east Asia on a tour designed to project American power in the region, with a call to Burma's leaders to work harder toward democracy.

Fresh from his re-election, Mr Obama will become the first sitting American president to visit Burma, which is emerging from decades of isolation.

He will praise Burmese President Thein Sein for ending the dark era of junta rule, but will also push him to go much further towards genuine democracy. He will also stand side by side with the pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi at the lakeside villa where his fellow Nobel laureate languished for years under house arrest.

"President Thein Sein is taking steps that move us in a better direction," Mr Obama told a press conference in Bangkok, the Thai capital. "But I don't think anybody's under any illusion that Burma's arrived. The country has a long way to go."

Mr Obama deliberately chose Thailand as the first destination on the trip in order to send a message that enduring relationships with democracies such as Thailand – however flawed they may be – would form the bedrock of US diplomacy as the region warily eyes a rising China.

Along with Hillary Clinton, the US secretary of state, the president visited the Wat Pho temple in Bangkok.

Both visitors followed Buddhist customs and removed their shoes. As they chatted with their guide, Mr Obama referred to budget negotiations in Washington, where a damaging series of tax increases and spending cuts loom. "We're working on this budget. We're going to need a lot of prayer for that," he said. (© Daily Telegraph, London)

Irish Independent