Myanmar president says not preparing himself for 2015 election

PARIS Fri Jul 19, 2013 8:15am EDT

Myanmar's President Thein Sein speaks before a lunch with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw May 26, 2013. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun

Myanmar's President Thein Sein speaks before a lunch with Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe at the Myanmar International Convention Centre in Naypyitaw May 26, 2013.

Credit: Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun

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PARIS (Reuters) - Myanmar President Thein Sein is not preparing himself at the moment to contest the 2015 presidential election and has "no objections" to Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi running, he said in an interview aired on Friday.

Thein Sein was speaking to France 24 television after the former military leader had completed a visit to London and Paris as part of a tour aimed at securing Western aid to help his country, the former Burma, emerge from decades of dictatorship.

"As of now, I have not prepared myself to run for the 2015 presidential election," he said, through an interpreter.

British Prime Minister David Cameron, who visited the former military dictatorship last year, has pressed Thein Sein to ensure the constitution is changed to allow opposition leader Suu Kyi to contest the election.

A year ago, Suu Kyi was feted at home and abroad, flush from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party's landslide wins in April 2012 by-elections, which swept her into parliament.

But to emerge as president after the election, Suu Kyi, 68, must convince the military-dominated parliament to amend the constitution, which now bars from the presidency anyone married to a foreigner or who has children who are foreign citizens.

Suu Kyi and her late husband, British academic Michael Aris, had two children who are British.

Thein Sein said the constitution was amendable, but added it was up to lawmakers to decide on amendments and if needed the provisions required would have to be put to a referendum.

"As far as her candidacy is concerned I have no objections," he said.

Western leaders have praised Thein Sein for ending Suu Kyi's house arrest and other reforms but want him to loosen the military's grip further.

ETHNIC CLEANSING

Even if the constitution were amended in time, Suu Kyi could then face a voter backlash over her position on a violent and widening rift between Myanmar's Buddhist majority and its minority Muslims.

Her rare public expressions of support for Muslims, who have borne the brunt of waves of sectarian violence, have put her in a politically fraught position.

Thein Sein said on Sunday that he had disbanded a security force accused of rights violations against the Rohingya Muslims in Rakhine State in the west of Myanmar.

He dismissed accusations of ethnic cleansing.

"This is not ethnic cleansing," he said. "Outside elements are just exaggerating and fabricating news. The government has been able to contain this communal violence and things have returned to normal."

He has already freed some political prisoners and earlier in the week he promised to free all those remaining by the end of this year, saying a special committee was tackling the backlog.

Thein Sein told France 24 there were fewer than 100 political prisoners left in jail.

(Reporting By John Irish, editing by Gareth Jones)

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