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January 5, 2009
Myanmar: Independence Day:
Opposition sees no hope for future

Myanmar, formerly Burma, marked the 61st anniversary of its independence with a ceremony and military parade attended by 3000 senior officials yesterday, reported the Radion Netherlands on its website.

In the capital Naypyidaw the national flag was raised at the exact time the country gained its independence from Britain in 1948. The military government took the opportunity to promote its seven-step "road map", which it claims will lead to general elections next year.

It also made fierce criticism of the West, which has dismissed the election plans as a sham, due to the regime's persecution of its opponents and the exclusion of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She is still being held under house arrest.

In a separate report, the Associated Press quoted Myanmar's pro-democracy party, which also marked the 61st anniversary of the country's independence, as saying it foresaw no hope for the military-ruled country.

At a ceremony inside the dilapidated headquarters of the opposition National League for Democracy, its chairman Aung Shwe also called for the release of Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi and other party leaders.

Suu Kyi - who has been under house arrest for more than 13 of the past 19 years - put up a banner at the gate of her home quoting a speech her father, independence hero Gen. Aung San, had once given: "Act decisively in the interest of the nation and the people."

In a speech to about 250 party members and diplomats, Aung Shwe said that national unity is in disarray and that there is "no harmony between the government and the governed."

"Hope for the present and future of the country is totally lacking," Aung Shwe said. Myanmar gained independence from Britain on Jan. 4, 1948, after more than 120 years of colonial rule. It has been under harsh military rule since 1962.

Meanwhile, the leader of the military junta Senior Gen. Than Shwe warned that "neocolonialists" were interfering in domestic affairs and inciting riots to undermine unity and stability.

"Neocolonialists" normally refers to Western nations that have been sharply critical of the regime's human rights record and brutal crackdowns on any protests.

The current junta emerged in 1988 after violently suppressing mass pro-democracy protests. It held a general election in 1990, but refused to recognize the results after a landslide victory by Suu Kyi's party.

Meanwhile, the United States on Friday highlighted its support for efforts to establish democracy in military-run Myanmar, ahead of the country's independence anniversary, reported AFP.

State Department spokesman Sean McCormack alluded to the human rights crackdown by the military junta that has been in power since 1962, as he commemorated the anniversary of independence from Britain on January 4, 1948.

"We wish to express our warmest wishes to the people of Burma on this occasion," McCormack said in a statement, referring to the country's name before the junta changed it to Myanmar in 1989.

"As we reflect on Burma's independence struggle, led by General Aung San, we are reminded of our own history," the statement said, alluding to the US drive for independence from Britain in the 18th century.

"We support the peaceful efforts of people everywhere to exercise freely their universal human rights," he said.

"We stand with the Burmese people today in honoring Aung San's vision for an independent, peaceful, and democratic Burma and look forward to the day when Burma's citizens will be able to enjoy the fruits of freedom and democracy," he said.

"We earnestly hope that day will come soon," according to McCormack's statement.

Massive protests in 2007, sparked initially by fuel-hikes and involving tens of thousands of people, were eventually crushed by the military. At least 31 people were killed, according to the United Nations.

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