Yangon: Downtown Yangon came to a near halt on Monday during President Barack Obama's historic visit to this once pariah nation.
    
Crowds flooded the streets, workers left their jobs and a nurse even snuck out of the hospital to see Obama, the first US president to visit the Asian nation, which is also known as Burma. The country has begun democratic reforms following a half-century of military rule.
    
Thousands of people lined the streets for a glimpse as Obama's motorcade headed to the Parliament building for a meeting between Obama and President Thein Sein.
    
Among the crowd were hundreds of students wearing matching school uniforms of white shirts and dark green sarongs. Many of those gathered on the streets waved American flags and some held up homemade signs reading "Welcome Obama."
    
In a country where people are often forced by the authorities into mass demonstrations, the seemingly spontaneous outpouring of support was striking.
    
Obama is the first US president to visit the Asian nation, which is also known as Burma. The country has begun democratic reforms following a half-century of military rule.
    
"No authority asked us to welcome President Obama. I am here to support President Obama and also to see him," said Soe Nyunt, a 27-year-old laborer who waited for Obama before going to work.
    
Wai New Yi, 32, was disappointed that she did not see Obama as she waited near Yangon International Airport.     

"I didn't even bat my eyelids when the motorcade passed by. I can see the motorcade but I didn't see President Obama," she said.
    
Ma Than Than Win, 42, was wearing an Obama T-shirt and holding a banner with picture of Obama and Aung San Suu Kyi, the pro-democracy activist who is hosting Obama at the home where she once served under house arrest by the country's ruling military regime.
    
"We have never had the visit of a president from a big country like America. I came here because we believe that President Obama will be a big strength for Myanmar's democratic reforms as he is a world-recognized leader for democracy," said Win, an office worker in Yangon.

(Agencies)

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