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Obama Asia trip includes landmark visit to Myanmar

By the CNN Wire Staff
updated 9:48 PM EST, Sat November 17, 2012
U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after making a speech at her residence in Yangon on Monday, November 19. Obama met the democracy icon during a historic visit to Yangon aimed at encouraging political reforms in the former pariah state. U.S. President Barack Obama hugs Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi after making a speech at her residence in Yangon on Monday, November 19. Obama met the democracy icon during a historic visit to Yangon aimed at encouraging political reforms in the former pariah state.
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STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • President Obama is headed to Asia for a three-day trip
  • He will visit Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar
  • Obama will be the first American president to visit Myanmar

(CNN) -- President Obama is on his way to making history this weekend with a trip to Asia that includes a stop in Myanmar -- a first for any American president.

Obama's three-day journey to the region also means visits to Thailand and Cambodia, where he will attend the East Asia Summit.

In Myanmar, also known as Burma, Obama will "speak to civil society to encourage Burma's ongoing democratic transition," according to the White House. He will meet with President Thein Sein and activist Aung San Suu Kyi.

U.S. lifts Myanmar import ban ahead of Obama visit

Global storm clouds

The trip comes as Myanmar's new reformist president has created a opening for further democracy there.

Under Thein Sein, the Myanmar government has released hundreds of political prisoners in the past year, part of a series of reforms that have followed decades of repressive military rule. Western governments have responded to the efforts by starting to ease sanctions put in place to pressure the military regime.

Myanmar authorities have also engaged in peace talks with rebel ethnic groups and allowed Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, to successfully participate in special elections for the national parliament in April.

"I think the president's message when he goes is going to be one of welcoming the progress that has taken place, noting the truly historic developments that we've seen over the course of the last year, but also underscoring that more work needs to be done to insure a full transition to civilian rule to ensure a full transition to democracy, and to bring about national reconciliation," said Ben Rhodes, deputy national security adviser for strategic communications.

Opinion: Aung San Suu Kyi and the power of unity

Suu Kyi, a democratic freedom activist who spent 15 years under house arrest, traveled to Washington earlier this year to accept the U.S. Congressional Gold Medal.

She was freed from house arrest two years ago and elected to the Myanmar parliament this year, a notable moment in the country's political history.

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