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Syrian media quoting Kucinich: 'Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians'

Ohio Rep. Dennis Kucinich is in Syria "to investigate conditions on the ground" on behalf of his Syrian-American constituents and held a meeting with President Bashar al-Assad. If these quotes from the state-sponsored Syrian news wire SANA are to be believed, Assad must have made quite an impression:

"There are some who want to give a wrong picture about what is going on in Syria," Kucinich said in a press conference held on Tuesday at the Four Seasons Hotel, adding that things should be left to the Syrian people, government and leadership to decide for themselves the direction and the way to go for democratic changes.

The U.S. Congressman described what is taking place in terms of the meetings of opposition and independent figures who are expressing themselves and their views openly and freely as "a largely positive progress", saying "President Bashar al-Assad cares so much about what is taking place in Syria, which is evident in his effort towards a new Syria and everybody who meets him can be certain of this."

"President al-Assad is highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians," said Kucinich, voicing his belief that people in Syria are seeking a real change which is up to them.

"What I saw in Syria in terms of the open discussion for change demanded by the people and the desire for national dialogue is a very positive thing," said the U.S. official, adding "Syria has gone through hard times...However, I believe there is a very strong desire for unity and democratic change, and the difficulties Syria has faced over the past few months can be overcome."

You do have to consider the source, and "highly loved and appreciated by the Syrians" sounds like a slightly odd sentence for an American politician to say. On the other hand, the comments aren't that far off from what he said about the situation in an interview with the Cleveland Plain Dealer last month:

Kucinich said protesters in Syria are making legitimate demands for reform, but some there are trying to "capitalize on those legitimate demands for reform and use it push a violent agenda."

"We also understand that there's very serious questions raised about the conduct of the Syrian police, but we also know the Syrian police were fired upon and that many police were murdered," Kucinich continued.[…]

"I've read where President Assad has made certain commitments, and I would imagine that when things finally settle down, that President Assad will move in a direction of democratic reforms," Kucinich said. "He has already made that commitment from what I can see."

A State Department spokesperson was quick to say that Kucinich was not representing the views of the U.S. government and "speaks for himself."

TIM SLOAN/AFP/Getty Images

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Hollywood actress expelled from Burma over her movie role

Though the ruling regime in Burma freed political dissident Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest last November and relaxed restrictions on her -- she's met with foreign diplomats and given interviews -- they don't seem to be any less sensitive about the 66-year-old Nobel Peace Prize winner. Apparently, even pretending to be Aung San Suu Kyi will get you kicked out of the country these days. Former Bond girl and Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon star Michelle Yeoh was sent packing on June 22 after landing in Rangoon. She will play Aung San Suu Kyi in the upcoming film, The Lady.

Yeoh spent time with the recently freed opposition leader in December, when she traveled to Burma with Aung San Suu Kyi's son, Kim Aris, according to the Daily Telegraph.

"She did not have the chance to enter [Burma] again," said a Burmese official, according to the Telegraph. "She was deported straight away on the first flight after arriving at [Rangoon] International Airport."

"When it comes to being kicked out and deported, it's very arbitrary," said a writer who has traveled there frequently in the last few years, though has also been denied entry on several occasions. "Meeting with Suu Kyi is very on the edge, because it's clearly anti-government. If you go to her headquarters, there's a very good chance you'll be taken to the airport directly afterwards or they won't let you back in next time."

The writer, who didn't want to be named so as not to harm the chances of getting into the country in the future, said the Burmese authorities have a long blacklist of people they won't allow in.

Yeoh was likely placed on the blacklist because she is a high-profile celebrity and didn't hide the fact that she met with Aung San Suu Kyi on her last visit.

And of course she's making a sympathetic movie of Aung San Suu Kyi. Yeoh described the film as an "incredible love story that has political turmoil within." Presumably, she's referring to Aung San Suu Kyi's marriage to British historian Michael Aris, who died of cancer in 1999 in England. Aung San Suu Kyi could not visit him because she believed she wouldn't be allowed to return to Burma. In the last 10 years of his life, he and his wife had only seen each other five times.

Aung San Suu Kyi spent most of the past 20 years under house arrest. She was freed last November, just days after elections in the country that were criticized by the international community as a sham and which her party, the National League for Democracy, boycotted.

After her release, she gave her first video broadcast interview to Foreign Policy, which chose her as one of the Top 100 Global Thinkers of 2010.

Last week, Aung San Suu Kyi testified before the U.S. Congress -- via video -- for the first time ever, urging the United States to do more to push Burma on the lack of democratic progress.

"We are seeing that the regime is not taking action against what Aung San Suu Kyi is doing and she is relatively free to attend meetings in her office and meet with whom she wants," said Aung Din, executive director of the U.S. Campaign for Burma. "This is their way of reaching out to the international community, which has been putting pressure on them."

Din said the regime will inevitably crack down again.

"[The regime] has opened the door a little, but their way of opening the door is to say you have to accept and obey the system and work within it. They have done it in the past. Really, the door is not open."

AFP/Getty Images