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Myanmar Activists Denounce Planned Polls

Monday, February 11, 2008

YANGON, Myanmar —  Two of Myanmar's top dissident groups, one led by Buddhist monks, on Monday denounced the military government's plans for a constitutional referendum as an effort to perpetuate the junta's rule.

The All Burma Monks Alliance and the Generation 88 Students group, both major organizers of last year's pro-democracy protests, said the government instead needed to hold reconciliation talks with the opposition party of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic minority groups.

The student group described the government's plans as a "declaration of war by the military regime against the people of Burma," using junta opponents' preferred name for the country.

Last week, the government announced the May referendum and a general election in 2010. It was the first time it has set dates for specific steps in its so-called road map to democracy.

It said it was scheduling the general election because "the time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule."

The move failed to win much applause from the international community, which questioned the junta's sincerity because its plans for democracy have so far failed to include Suu Kyi and other independent political voices.

"We're not persuaded that this is anything more than a cynical sham," said Australian Foreign Minister Stephen Smith.

However, some in Myanmar felt it was a small step forward.

"I will vote for the constitution as it is better to have a constitution than not having any at all," said Tint Lwin, a 57-year-old university lecturer.

Guidelines for a new constitution were adopted at a military-managed national convention last year and a government-appointed commission is now drafting the document. The guidelines would give the military a major role in politics.

Myanmar held its previous general election in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power to the winning party _ the National League for Democracy of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Suu Kyi, who has been under house arrest or in prison for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

The international community increased pressure on the junta, officially called the State Peace and Development Council or SPDC, to hasten political reform after it violently quashed peaceful mass protests last September. The U.N. estimates the crackdown killed at least 31 people, and thousands more were detained.

"We reject and denounce the SPDC announcements as they ignore the aspirations and wishes of the people and are an attempt to perpetuate the military dictatorship," said an e-mailed statement from the All Burma Monks Alliance.

Most of Myanmar's 56 million people are devout Buddhists, and monks are highly influential.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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