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Myanmar president establishes anti-graft team

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YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Myanmar President Thein Sein has established a nine-member anti-corruption team in his latest reform for the country's newly unshackled economy.

State media reported Wednesday that the Action Committee Against Corruption will be headed by one of the country's two vice presidents and will fight widespread corruption and implement clean government. Details of its powers were not given. Thein Sein established the body Tuesday.

The anti-corruption group Transparency International says Myanmar is perceived as one of the world's most corrupt countries, ranking 172nd out of 176. Business tycoons have entrenched themselves by cutting deals with the country's former military leaders, and privatization of state resources in the transition to a free market economy has opened up opportunities for graft.

Corruption is a longstanding problem in most South and Southeast Asian nations, and efforts to fight it have met with mixed results, as anti-graft bodies are sometime used by governments as political tools to attack their rivals.

The team will be the first official anti-corruption body in the country's history, and is the latest of the reforms Thein Sein has undertaken since taking office in March 2011 after a half-century of military rule. Other measures for which the former general — who had been prime minister under the ruling junta — has won international praise include ending direct media censorship, releasing political prisoners and allowing public demonstrations.

In a speech in December, he voiced rare public criticism of the bureaucracy, saying that rampant corruption, bribery and inefficiency were getting in the way of the country's much-touted reform process and that Myanmar still falls short of international norms in good governance.

He reprimanded a gathering of Cabinet ministers, regional leaders and other senior bureaucrats in the speech, broadcast live on nationwide television and radio, and said the third wave of his government reforms will target corruption.

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.

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."

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