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May 15, 2008

Junta claims over 90% vote 'yes' in referendum

Myanmar's military government on Thursday said voters overwhelmingly endorsed a military-backed draft constitution in Saturday's referendum in the cyclone-devastated country.

State radio broadcast a statement issued by the junta-backed Referendum Commission saying 92.4 percent of votes cast were in favor of the charter.

Out of a total of 22.7 million eligible voters in the 278 townships across the country where the referendum was held, 22.49 million, or 99.07 percent, cast ballots, according to the statement.

Voting has been delayed in 47 townships hardest hit by the cyclone to May 24, the junta earlier announced.

The statement, signed by the commission's chairman, Chief Justice Aung Toe, said there were 20.78 million votes in favor of the draft constitution, and 1.37 million votes against it, adding that 334,584 votes were rejected.

The statement did not declare that the constitution had been approved, apparently due to the delay in voting in areas in the country's southwest affected by Cyclone Nargis.

The draft constitution, which the junta says is the only choice for Myanmar to transform itself into a multiparty democracy, includes provisions to guarantee the military's continued role in the government.

It also effectively bans Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from taking key posts such as head of state in a future government.

Pro-democracy groups including Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy have urged voters to reject the draft charter, saying it is designed to legitimize military rule.

Myanmar has been ruled by the military in various forms since 1962. The opposition party won elections by a landslide in 1990, but the junta did not recognize the result.

In Bangkok on Thursday, an alliance of Myanmar dissident groups rejected the referendum, saying it was "fraudulent."

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