Myanmar hardliners face axe in 'reshuffle'

Several hardliners will leave Myanmar's top leadership in an imminent reshuffle, officials said Wednesday, as the reformist regime welcomed the parliamentary debut of Aung San Suu Kyi's opposition.

The move signals growing confidence among reformers in the quasi-civilian government, observers said, and coincides with the ascension of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) to the heart of political decision making.

Around three senior ministers are expected to be replaced soon by more moderate figures in the new line-up, a government official told AFP. "Those who are about to be reshuffled are known as hardliners," the official said.

It will be the first major change of personnel in the top echelons of a regime that has implemented wide-ranging reform since it replaced junta rule last year, raising hopes the former pariah state can move towards democracy.

In addition to the reshuffle, the speaker for both chambers of parliament announced the resignation of vice president Tin Aung Myint Oo, a renowned hardliner closely linked to former junta chief Than Shwe, citing health reasons.

Tin Aung Myint Oo disappeared from the public eye to become a monk in May. His successor will be chosen by military personnel who hold one quarter of the seats in parliament.

"To fill the vacant seat of the vice president, the cluster of military representatives have to choose a new vice president... by July 10," said Union Parliament speaker Khin Aung Myint. The nominee will later be approved by MPs.

Nicholas Farrelly, research fellow at the Australian National University, said the reshuffle "gives new impetus to President Thein Sein's reformists and provides them with more room to manoeuvre".

"A refreshed decision-making line-up reinforces the message that this transition process requires new blood," he told AFP, adding the regime wants to avoid the impression that "the only reformists in town are Aung San Suu Kyi and her NLD".

The dramatic reorganisation comes as the NLD is recast from the role of dissident outsider to a mainstream political player, with an opportunity to shape policy for the first time after years muffled by the junta.

Newly-elected NLD MPs joined a new parliament session in the capital Naypyidaw Wednesday, although Suu Kyi will miss the opening days as she recovers from her gruelling European tour and visits her constituency.

She is due to join proceedings in the purpose-built capital on Monday.

Topping the agenda for parliament is the deadly communal violence in June between ethnic Buddhist Rakhine and Muslim Rohingya that left dozens dead and tens of thousands homeless.

A state of emergency, which requires parliamentary approval, is still in place after the outbreak of violence that Thein Sein has warned could damage the country's emergence from decades of military rule.

State mouthpiece the New Light of Myanmar on Wednesday quoted the president again urging an end to "ethnic conflicts" saying "unending racial rift or armed ethnic fights hinder economic development".

Myanmar has been racked by conflicts with ethnic minority rebels for decades.

The government has this year sought tentative truces with a number of armed groups this year, but fighting continues between the army and ethnic rebels in Kachin state.

A new foreign investment law -- to govern the expected rush of overseas cash into the once secretive state amid hopes of the resurgence of its long neglected economy -- was approved by the Upper House on Wednesday and will be sent back to the Lower House for further discussion.

Suu Kyi on Tuesday pledged the NLD will join "the legislative concert" and push for greater transparency once inside parliament.

The 67-year-old, who returned on Saturday from a triumphant five-nation European tour, was swept into parliament in landmark April by-elections that saw an NLD landslide.

She will travel to the capital Naypyidaw over the weekend, after visiting her constituency following more than a month's absence.

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