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Myanmar must change constitution to stay on reform path: Suu Kyi

Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the Myanmar community living in Singapore on the island of Sentosa in Singapore Septe
Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi speaks to the Myanmar community living in Singapore on the island of Sentosa in Singapore Septe

By Adrian Croft

LUXEMBOURG (Reuters) - Nobel peace prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi urged Europe and the United States on Monday to press Myanmar to reform what she said was an undemocratic constitution, partly because it effectively bars women from running for president.

The Myanmar (Burmese) opposition leader, in Luxembourg to meet European Union foreign ministers, said the constitution stipulates that the president must have military experience, thus excluding women.

It also prevents Suu Kyi, 68, from running for the presidency in 2015 because it bans anyone who has children who are foreign citizens. Suu Kyi and her husband, the late British academic Michael Aris, had two children who are British.

The EU has already called for amendments to Myanmar's constitution, but Suu Kyi said it must be more vocal "because unless this constitution is amended ... we will have to take it that the present administration is not interested in taking reform further forward.

"It's gone as far as it is going to go without amendments to the constitution and we are still very, very far away from a genuine democratic form of government," she told reporters.

The United States, too, should call for constitutional change, she said in response to a question.

Myanmar President Thein Sein, whose quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011 after nearly half a century of military rule, launched a series of political and economic reforms that helped break Myanmar's international isolation.

Suu Kyi, who spent 15 years under house arrest, was allowed back into politics and her National League for Democracy won a landslide victory in last year's parliamentary by-elections, giving her a seat in parliament.

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On Tuesday, Suu Kyi will visit the European Parliament in Strasbourg to receive the Sakharov human rights prize that she was awarded in 1990 but could not pick up.

The EU decided in April to lift all sanctions on Myanmar, except for an arms embargo, increasing the interest of foreign businesses in a country with significant natural resources.

Asked if she would contest the 2015 election if constitutional obstacles are removed, Suu Kyi said: "We are not shutting any doors at the moment."

Changing the constitution is difficult, requiring more than 75 percent support in parliament, where 25 percent of seats are held by appointees of the military, Suu Kyi said.

An end to ethnic conflict also depends on overhauling the constitution because the existing one is not acceptable to ethnic groups, she said.

Myanmar has suffered from ethnic tensions, including between majority Buddhists and the Muslim Rohingya minority. At least 237 people have been killed and about 150,000 made homeless in violence between the two groups over the past year.

Despite investor interest in Myanmar, Suu Kyi said actual investments had been much less than the government had hoped for because of doubts over the rule of law and poor infrastructure.

"I've talked to businessmen ... They have no confidence in the situation in the country. They are not happy about the political situation and they are not happy about the rule of law situation ... They are not happy with the lack of infrastructure - no roads, no electricity, in some places no water," she said.

Asked if change in Myanmar was now firmly entrenched, she said: "Nothing is irreversible."

(additional reporting by Justyna Pawlak; Editing by Alistair Lyon)

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