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May 11, 2008

Junta generals turn cyclone aid into propangada tools

As the death toll from Cyclone Nargis that hit southern Myanmar a week ago keeps toll keeps rising, the military regime went ahead Saturday with the referendum on the charter in all but the storm-devastated regions, where the vote has been delayed for two weeks, said agencies.

An Associated report said the military rulers brazenly turned cyclone relief efforts into a propaganda campaign, scribbling the names of generals onto boxes of foreign aid before being distributed.

Though international aid has started to trickle in - with two more planes organised by the UN World Food Program landing at Yangon's airport Saturday - almost all foreign relief workers have been barred entry into the isolated nation. The junta says it wants to hand out all donated supplies on its own.

The state-run television meanwhile continuously ran images of top generals including junta leader, Senior Gen Than Shwe, handing out boxes of aid at elaborate ceremonies.

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

It has been 18 years since the last poll, and many people had no idea how to vote nor had they read the draft charter. Myanmar has been ruled by military regimes since 1962. The current junta seized power in 1988, throwing out the country's last constitution.

The referendum is the first vote here since 1990, when detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi led her National League to Democracy (NLD) to a landslide victory in elections, a result the junta has never recognised, reported AFP.

The regime says the constitution will clear the way for democratic elections in two years, but the NLD says it will entrench military rule and has urged voters to reject the charter.

The referendum seeks public approval of a new one, which the generals say will be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of what the junta calls its "roadmap to democracy."

But the proposed constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency - elements critics say defy the junta's professed commitment to democracy.

It also would bar Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained leader of the country's pro-democracy movement, from public office. The military refused to honor the results of the 1990 general election won by her National League for Democracy party.

Some 27 million of the country's 57 million people were eligible to vote, although balloting was delayed for two weeks in the areas hardest hit by the May 3 cyclone.

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