Myanmar junta chief praises 'successful' elections

Myanmar's ruling strongman said Wednesday that the country's recent elections — condemned by the international community as rigged — were free and fair and a step toward handing power to the people.

Junta chief Senior Gen. Than Shwe made the assessment about the country's first elections in two decades in a speech marking National Day, which celebrates a 1920 student strike against British colonialism.

According to the state-run New Light of Myanmar newspaper, Than Shwe said the successful completion of "free and fair elections" left just two steps to complete in the junta's self-styled 'roadmap to democracy:' convening Parliament and building a modern developed democratic nation with a Head of State elected by Parliament.

Government opponents and outside observers were critical of the Nov. 7 polls, saying they were held under unfair conditions and that the results were manipulated to allow the military-backed party to win.

The U.N. special envoy to Myanmar said Sunday that he told the military government that it must address concerns about the polls. Vijay Nambiar, speaking after a two-day visit, said concerns about the elections have to be addressed "as transparently as possible."

"This is important for laying the foundation of a credible transition" to democratic rule, he said.

Than Shwe in his speech said that plans were now under way "to hand over state power to the public."

Although final official results have yet to be announced, a tabulation based on reports in state media shows the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party garnered nearly 80 percent of the seats in the two-house Union Parliament.

The election results assure that the military, which has ruled Myanmar since 1962, will continue to wield decisive power.

The disbanded party of pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi also marked National Day, with the 65-year old Nobel Peace laureate, recently released from 7 1/2 years of detention, calling for unity, courage and perseverance to achieve peace, security and prosperity. She called on the junta to release all political prisoners.