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Despite criticisms, Myanmar assumes leadership of Southeast Asian bloc of nations

Myanmar says it has almost completed preparations to host summits to be attended by Asian and Western leaders next year as it assumes leadership of the 10-nation Association of Southeast Asian Nations.

Once a pariah state for its dismal human rights record, Myanmar will assume the ASEAN chairmanship in a ceremony Thursday from current leader Brunei. Its duties as ASEAN leader will not begin until next year.

Although Myanmar has embarked on democratic reforms, critics have said rewarding it with such a high-profile role is premature because of remaining issues, including the government's failure to stop deadly sectarian violence.

Myanmar Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin told The Associated Press that his country is ready to lead ASEAN and determined to address remaining obstacles to democracy.