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Suu Kyi says she wants presidency if charter changed

BANGKOK - Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi said Thursday she wants to run for president in elections two years from now and rebuffed criticism that she has been silent about the repression of a Muslim minority in the country.

“There are those who say I shouldn’t say I would like to be president,” Suu Kyi told a panel in Naypyidaw broadcast on the World Economic Forum’s website. “But if I pretended that I didn’t want to be president I wouldn’t be honest, and I would rather be honest with my people.”

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, has sought closer ties with the military since joining parliament last year as she pushes for a constitutional change that would allow her to lead one of Asia’s poorest countries.

President Thein Sein’s move to democracy since 2010 elections prompted the United States and European Union to ease sanctions, attracting companies such as Google, General Electric and Norway’s Telenor.

Suu Kyi, 67, is ineligible to become head of state because the constitution says the president and two vice presidents can’t have a child who is the citizen of a foreign country, and her two sons are British nationals.

The constitution automatically grants the military a quarter of seats in parliament. Since amendments need more than 75 percent of votes to pass, the military effectively can veto any changes. Amendments to certain sections, including the one that bars Suu Kyi from the presidency, also need a referendum.

Shwe Mann, the speaker of parliament’s lower house and No. 3 in the former military junta, on March 15 called for a commission to recommend changes to the constitution. He mentioned no specific clauses to be amended.

“It not only depends on speaker, but on all the representatives of the people,” Shwe Mann, who sat in the audience of the panel, said Thursday when asked about whether the military’s role in politics will be reduced. “The people, their desire is the most important for the country.”

Thein Sein, speaking on a panel later in the day, said the government would continue efforts to open the country after about five decades of military rule.

“We are working hard to move from military rule to democracy, to end the multiple arms conflicts that have ridden this nation since independence in 1948, and to reform the economy away from a centralized economy to one based on free market,” Thein Sein said. “I promise you that we will not waver in this task.”

Myanmar may attract as much as $100 billion in foreign direct investment during the next two decades if it spends enough to achieve its economic growth potential, McKinsey Global Institute said in a May 30 report.

The former military regime’s gross domestic product could more than quadruple to $200 billion with an 8 percent annual growth rate, according to McKinsey, almost double the pace from 1990 to 2010.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner, also defended herself against criticism that she has not said enough to defend the country’s minority Muslim Rohingya.

Human Rights Watch has accused the government of ethnic cleansing in displacing more than 125,000 Rohingya who are denied citizenship in the country.

“At the moment nobody seems to be very satisfied with me because I’m not taking sides,” Suu Kyi said. “I have not been silent. It’s just that they are not hearing what they want to hear from me.”

Suu Kyi said the government must establish “rule of law” in Rakhine state, where violence has occurred, before the country reassesses the citizenship law.

Many of Myanmar’s 64 million people view the 800,000 Rohingya as illegal migrants from what is now Bangladesh, and refer to them as Bengali.

At least 70 Rohingya were killed in a massacre on Oct. 23, including 28 children who were hacked to death, Human Rights Watch said, part of violence in the region last year that killed about 180 people and displaced more than 100,000.

In March, anti-Muslim violence in central Myanmar killed more than 40 people, displaced 20,000 others and left about 1,400 buildings destroyed, including mosques.