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Shwe Mann visits EU parliament

Burmese lawmakers, headed by Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann, visited the European parliament on Thursday, the first ever visit by Burmese officials.

Lower House Speaker Shwe Mann exchanges greetings with EU Parliament President Martin Schulz. Photo: europarl.europa.eu

The delegation included two lawmakers and dozens of Burmese officials who met with EU president Herman Van Rompuy and foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton.

Shwe Mann has been the subject of speculation this week following the rumored resignation of Burmese Vice President Tin Aung Myint Oo for health reasons.

The Lower House speaker is being considered as a candidate to replace Tin Aung Myint Oo, who is a hardliner, say Burma observers. Shwe Mann’s working relationship President Thein Sein is not strong, they say, and the move would open up the president’s options in dealing with Parliament.

It could also put Shwe Mann in a position to seek the presidency after the 2015 elections, said observers.

The president of the EU parliament, Martin Schulz, said the visit by Burmese officials is another sign of Burma’s emergence into the international community.

“The recent impressive democratic opening of the country gives us much hope and optimism,” Schulz said in a statement.

He said the parliament had reiterated a standing invitation to Aung San Suu Kyi to collect her 1990 Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought.

“I hope this will become possible in the nearest future,” he said.

The EU last month suspended almost all sanctions against Burma. The suspension takes effect on Friday.

After decades under a repressive junta, Myanmar has seen a thaw in its relations with the international community since President Thein Sein ushered in broad changes upon coming to power last year, including welcoming Suu Kyi's party into the political mainstream.