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Obama opens landmark visit to Myanmar

By Julie Pace

Associated Press

Published: Sunday, Nov. 18 2012 11:16 p.m. MST

China's rise is also at play in Myanmar, which long has aligned itself with Beijing. But some in Myanmar fear that China is taking advantage of its wealth of natural resources, so the country is looking for other partners to help build its nascent economy.

Even as Obama turned his sights on Asia, widening violence in the Middle East competed for his attention.

Obama told reporters Sunday that Israel had the right to defend itself against missile attacks from Gaza. But he urged Israel not to launch a ground assault in Gaza, saying it would put Israeli soldiers, as well as Palestinian citizens, at greater risk and hamper an already vexing peace process.

"If we see a further escalation of the situation in Gaza, the likelihood of us getting back on any kind of peace track that leads to a two-state solution is going to be pushed off way into the future," Obama said.

As for Myanmar, as he seeks to assuage critics, Obama has trumpeted Suu Kyi's support of his outreach efforts, saying Sunday that she was "very encouraging" of his trip.

The White House says Obama will express his concern for the ongoing ethnic tensions in Myanmar's western Rakhine state, where more than 110,000 people — the vast majority of them Muslims known as Rohingya — have been displaced.

The U.N. has called the Rohingya — who are widely reviled by the Buddhist majority in Myanmar — among the world's most persecuted people.

The White House says Obama will press the matter Monday with Thein Sein, along with demands to free remaining political prisoners as the nation transitions to democracy.

The president will deliver his speech at a university that was the center of the country's struggle for independence against Britain and the launching point for many pro-democracy protests. The former military junta shut the dormitories in the 1990s fearing further unrest and forced most students to attend classes on satellite campuses on the outskirts of town.

Associated Press writer Jim Kuhnhenn contributed to this report.

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