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Myanmar junta presses on with 'road map to democracy' as criticism of repression continues

Myanmar junta presses on with 'road map to democracy' as criticism of repression continues

Myanmar's military government pressed ahead Saturday with its controversial plans for a new constitution, amid worldwide criticism of its iron-fisted treatment of pro-democracy activists.
A national convention to draw up guidelines for the new constitution completed its tasks Friday, and is to formally end on Monday, delegates said.
It is the first stage of a so-called road map to democracy, implemented by the junta to lead to elections at an unspecified future date.
Critics say the proceedings are a sham because the junta hand-picked most of the delegates, and because pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi _ currently under house arrest _ cannot attend.
The convention is wrapping up its work as anti-government protesters scatter into hiding to dodge arrest, following a wave of protests over economic issues.
The military government has detained scores of activists and is using gangs of hired civilian toughs in Myanmar's biggest city, Yangon, to snuff out protests that began Aug. 19 over higher fuel and consumer goods prices.
Some detained activists started a hunger strike Thursday to demand medical treatment for a colleague, who reportedly suffered a broken leg during his arrest Tuesday, according to an associate who insisted on anonymity for fear of official retaliation.
U.S. President George W. Bush has urged Myanmar's government to heed international calls to release the activists, and to stop intimidating citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights.
His wife Laura Bush telephoned U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon on Friday to urge him to condemn the junta's treatment of dissidents and to press for the Security Council to prevent more violence in Myanmar. A statement released by her office said, "Mrs. Bush noted that by staying quiet, the United Nations _ and all nations _ condone these abuses."
The State Department has said U.S. officials will work to raise the subject of Myanmar at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.
In Geneva, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, told journalists Friday he was seriously concerned by reports of the detainees' hunger strike. He added he "received allegations that the detainees have been severely beaten and tortured."
Pinheiro also said the timing of the crackdown was particularly bad, considering the junta's current efforts to implement its road map toward democracy and the upcoming visit to Myanmar of U.N. Under-Secretary-General Ibrahim Gambari.
In 1988, public protests over rising rice prices were a prelude to a burst of major demonstrations, violently subdued by the army, that sought an end to military rule that began in 1962. The current junta suspended a 1974 constitution when it took power.
The current protests are nowhere near the scale of those in 1988.
A small demonstration was reported Friday in the town of Taunggok in Rakhine State, west of Yangon. The Web site of the Democratic Voice of Burma, a Norway-based opposition shortwave radio station, said two men held up protest signs at a marketplace and were arrested.
Although the protests appear to be losing steam, activists remained defiant.
"I want to implore the people to join hands with us in our movement who have sacrificed our lives and freedom for the good of the people and the country," said Su Su Nway, who is active in labor issues.
Some critics say the finished constitution is not likely to usher in promised democratic reforms or protect minority groups' rights. Other critics say the process has been a stalling strategy to prolong the junta's grip on power.
The next stage in the seven-step road map is supposed to be the drafting of the actual constitution, but it is still not clear who will be entrusted with the task. The document would then be submitted to a national referendum.


Updated : 2021-06-19 13:54 GMT+08:00