Obama praises release of prisoners in Myanmar

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WASHINGTON (AP) -- President Barack Obama is calling the Myanmar government's decision to release hundreds of political prisoners "a substantial step forward for democratic reform."

It comes in the wake of Obama's decision to dispatch Secretary of State Hillary Clinton's to the repressive country in December as a way of deepening engagement and seeking to encourage growing signs of openness. Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell of Kentucky is visiting there next week.

The U.S. has set release of political prisoners as an important condition for further engagement and possible lifting of economic and political sanctions.

Obama says he applauds the decision by President Thein Sein, noting that opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi has welcomed steps toward reforms.

Obama says the prisoner release is important to Burma's "national reconciliation process."