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Obama is off to Asia to ‘rebalance’ ties

President Barack Obama left Washington on Saturday for a weeklong visit to Vietnam and Japan

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President Barack Obama left Washington on Saturday for a weeklong visit to Vietnam and Japan, his 10th trip to Asia since taking office.

Air Force One, the US presidential jet, lifted off shortly after 1 p.m. local time for the long flight to Hanoi. After his jet makes two refueling stops along the way, Obama is due to touch down in the Vietnamese capital early Monday local time, or early Sunday afternoon in the US capital.

A White House statement said the president's visit to Vietnam and Japan is intended to demonstrate the US commitment to "rebalancing" relations with the nations of Asia and the Pacific region.

The 16,000-mile trip to Asia, is part of Obama’s effort to pay more attention to the region and boost economic and security cooperation.

He'll spend three days in Vietnam, with stops in Hanoi and Ho Chi Minh City, formerly Saigon, for meetings with leaders, a speech on US-Vietnam relations, visits to cultural treasures and sessions with civic leaders and entrepreneurs. From Vietnam, he heads to Japan for a summit of the Group of Seven industrialized nations and a historic visit to Hiroshima.

A sticking point during Obama's stay in Vietnam will be human rights. Five Republican senators sent the president a letter Friday labeling Vietnam "one of the most repressive regimes in the world" and urging Obama to press Vietnamese leaders to do more to respect freedom of religion and expression and other human rights. The letter was signed by Sens.

Before Obama left, Vietnam granted early release from prison to a Catholic priest who is one of its most prominent dissidents. The move is widely viewed as a goodwill gesture before the president arrives in Hanoi late Sunday night for an official visit.

May 23-24: He will hold official meetings with Vietnam's leadership in Hanoi.
Obama also will deliver a speech on US-Vietnam relations.

May 25: Obama will travel to Japan.

May 26-27: Obama will take part in a summit of leaders of the Group of Seven, the world's biggest economic powers. The talks will be at Ise-Shima, a resort area in southeastern Japan, near Osaka.

May 27: Obama to visit Hiroshima

[with AP]