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Myanmar says cyclone could delay president's US trip

AFP  |  Yangon 

Myanmar President Thein Sein's landmark state visit to the United States could be delayed because of a cyclone threatening to strike his country's northwest coast, the government said today.

"We have arranged the trip. But it's not certain yet. We will announce (the departure date) depending on the outcome of the cyclone," Aung Min, minister of the president's office, told reporters.

The UN has warned of potential "life-threatening conditions" for 8.2 million people owing to Cyclone Mahasen, which was barrelling towards the Myanmar-border and expected to make landfall on Friday morning.

Myanmar state television reported on Monday that Thein Sein would soon make a state visit to the United States -- the first by a leader of the former pariah nation in almost half a century.

Neither country has announced a firm date for when Obama will welcome the former general, whose quasi-civilian government has won international plaudits for its political reforms since taking power two years ago.

But spokespeople for Johns Hopkins University's School of Advanced International Studies and the US Chamber of Commerce have said Thein Sein is expected to speak in Washington on Monday.

The trip will be the first to Washington by a leader of the country formerly known as Burma since military leader Ne Win was invited in 1966 by president Lyndon Johnson.

Thein Sein in September flew to New York, where he addressed the UN General Assembly, following a series of visits to Myanmar by US officials including Secretary of State Hillary Clinton.

The former junta premier surprised even many sceptics by launching a range of reforms after taking office in 2011 in the wake of controversial elections, freeing hundreds of political prisoners and relaxing censorship.

He has allowed opposition icon Aung San Suu Kyi to take a seat in parliament, a dramatic turnaround for the Nobel Peace laureate who spent most of the previous two decades under house arrest.

In response, the West has begun to roll back most sanctions imposed against the former junta which ruled for almost half a century.

First Published: Wed, May 15 2013. 14:35 IST