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Burmese President Thein Sein pledged on Sunday to tackle chronic poverty in the long-isolated nation, whose economy was left in tatters by decades of harsh junta rule.
“We have a good foundation for economic development in our country,” the former general said in a speech in Rangoon, citing ample water resources, an efficient labour force, an advantageous climate and abundant natural resources.
“But our country is still one of the poorest LDCs (least developed countries)… We must all strive to get out of this situation,” he said.
“Poverty alleviation should be prioritised rather than the wealth of the country at this moment.”
Burma was once seen as one of Southeast Asia’s brightest economic prospects, but decades of corruption and economic mismanagement under the former junta caused it to fall behind its regional neighbours.
About one quarter of Burma’s population lives below the national poverty line, according to the Asian Development Bank.
Thein Sein’s government on Sunday launched a plan to offer micro-finance loans together worth several million dollars to households and workers as part of poverty alleviation efforts.
As he was speaking, about 200 people gathered nearby protesting against land grabs, witnesses said.
“Welcome to the Democracy President — from the people in Mi Chaung Kan whose lands were unlawfully seized,” read one banner.
Demonstrations over alleged land grabs have taken place across the country since 2011, when the repressive junta was replaced by a quasi-civilian government.
Analysts say protesters have been emboldened by reforms since the end of military rule, during which dissent was routinely crushed.