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PM avoids 'Keyisms' on Myanmar tour

Last updated 13:58 23/11/2012

John Key in Myanmar

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Prime minister John Key has successfully negotiated a diplomatic minefield that tripped up US President Barack Obama in Myanmar this week.

Well known for his 'Keyisms' - or linguistic twists - the prime minister has not tripped up once while pronouncing the tricky names of President Thein Sein and opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

While the New Zealand media delegation tied their tongues in knots, Key remarkably sailed through press conferences and bilateral talks with barely a stumble.

President Barack Obama repeatedly botched the name of democratic icon Suu Kyi - calling her Aung YAN Suu Kyi - to reporters after their Yangon meeting on Monday.

The gracious politician - known as 'The Lady' - did not correct him. But her name should be pronounced: "Ahng Sahn Soo Chee."

Diplomats also grimaced when, during a joint press conference, Obama referred the "President Sein." He is Thein Sein on first and second reference.

Key clearly made a good impression on the former military general, who has accepted an invitation to New Zealand next month.

Thein Sein rarely speaks to the media - and when Key invited him to answer a question from a New Zealand reporter, aides cringed. But he stepped up to the podium and spoke through an interpreter - although didn't take questions.

"He must favour you," journalists were told afterwards.

Suu Kyi also addressed the media delegation after a meeting at Key's hotel last night. She spoke of how she dreamed of New Zealand during tough years of house arrest - and planned to visit soon.

She also thanked New Zealand for hosting refugees through the UN.

While she welcomed visits from Key and Obama, the outside world should be careful in how it supports the country.

"There is of course a danger that it will give rise to a perception that things are going very well in Burma," she said.

She does not recognise the name Myanmar because it was imposed on her country.

Suu Kyi also told reporters that Myanmar - which has three state-owned newspapers - does not have a free press. There is "something lacking in media freedom," she said.

Later today Key is to tour Naypyitaw's parliament, before returning to Auckland.

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