More than a thousand people welcomed Burmese President Thein Sein upon his return from the United States on Monday morning in a rare gesture of popular support for a leading politician in the military-dominated nation.
“We love our president,” bellowed the crowd outside Rangoon International Airport. Huge posters with the former general’s image bearing the slogan “We support you! Congratulations, Mr. President” were held by supporters
Those present included affluent businessmen, members of political parties, garment factory workers and students. Some estimated that as many as 2,000 people could have been among the horde.
“We are glad that sanctions have been lifted. Before, we could only export our products to our neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Malaysia, Japan, Vietnam and so on,” said Dr. Aung Win, deputy chairman of the Myanmar Garment Association.
“Now we in the textile industry can export more to the United States too. That’s why we came here to welcome the president.”
Aung Win said that he brought around 300 garment factory workers to welcome Thein Sein, but that 10,000 or 20,000 people could easily have come.
During Thein Sein’s trip, which started on Sept. 24, the Obama administration lifted import sanctions against Burma as a reward for tentative democratic reforms since the 67-year-old took office in March last year.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has also been traveling in the United States and backed Naypyidaw’s calls for the lifting of the trade restrictions.
Maj Zaw Htay, the director of the President’s Office, told The Irrawaddy on Monday afternoon that “the president’s trip was a success.”
“The president got a chance to explain the changes in our country in front of the international community,” he said. “Our President’s Office was proud of his success.”
US Secretary of State Hillary Clinton announced the lifting of sanctions one day before Thein Sein addressed the UN General Assembly in New York on Thursday.