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Myanmar leader voices concern about corruption

YANGON, Myanmar — Myanmar's president voiced rare public criticism of his government today, saying that rampant corruption, bribery and inefficiency were getting in the way of the country's much-touted reform process.

In another sign of the changes sweeping Myanmar, President Thein Sein reprimanded a gathering of Cabinet ministers, regional leaders and other senior bureaucrats in a speech broadcast live on nationwide television and radio.

It marked a sharp contrast to secretive leadership of the former military regime which did not admit its own failings.

Since taking office last year, Thein Sein has introduced a wave of new freedoms and democratic reforms that have opened the country to the outside world after a half-century of military rule.

He told today's gathering that the first wave of change under his government focused on political reforms and national reconciliation, while the second wave was aimed at helping the country's economy. The third phase, he said, will target corruption.

"Good governance is still very weak in Myanmar and still falls short of international norms," Thein Sein said. "I would like to stress that bribery and corruption must be effectively prevented in order to implement good governance."

Thein Sein has frequently spoken about the need to eliminate corruption, and said he has repeatedly told government officials "to strive for good governance and clean government."

"But we have found that departments at various levels of administration have failed to listen to the voices of the people and lack transparency."

He did not outline upcoming reforms but said that cleaning up and overhauling bureaucracy will be "the third phase of our strategy for the reforms and development of the country."

The 67-year-old ex-general, who had been prime minister under the ruling junta, has won international praise for spearheading reforms that have included ending direct media censorship, releasing political prisoners and allowing public demonstrations.

The U.N. General Assembly on Monday adopted a resolution welcoming positive changes in Myanmar but expressing serious concern at an upsurge of sectarian violence between Muslims and Buddhists in strife-torn Rakhine state. The resolution echoed concerns of the international community about continuing violations of human rights and fundamental freedoms.