UNITED NATIONS — Myanmar's president Thursday said his country has taken irreversible steps toward democracy as he paid unprecedented public tribute to opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi, describing her as crucial to political reforms.
President Thein Sein told the U.N. General Assembly that the country also known as Burma is leaving behind five decades of authoritarian rule.
It was a speech that reflected the momentous changes in Myanmar over the past year, as Mrs. Suu Kyi has been elected to parliament after 15 years of house arrest, and the country has shed its pariah status.
For the first time, Myanmar's speech to the U.N.'s annual gathering of world leaders was broadcast live on state television at home. Never before had such a speech even mentioned the opposition leader, whose peaceful struggle against military rule won international admiration but only the ire of the former junta.
While Thein Sein, a former general, has orchestrated Myanmar's political opening, he has not publicly praised Mrs. Suu Kyi before, nor referred to her as "Nobel laureate" as he did Thursday.
"As a Myanmar citizen, I would like to congratulate her for the honors she has received in this country in recognition of her efforts for democracy," he said.
Later speaking at the Asia Society in New York, he said Mrs. Suu Kyi had played a "crucial role in the reform process."
"She's been a good colleague," Thein Sein said, according to the interpretation of his comments, made in the Burmese language. "I believe she will continue to work with us to complete all the things we need to achieve in the country."
Mrs. Suu Kyi is currently visiting America, and last week met President Obama and was presented with Congress' highest award. She attended a meeting on global education on the sidelines of the General Assembly on Wednesday.