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Myanmar holds referendum amid cyclone chaos

Yangon, May 10, 2008

The military rulers of Myanmar went ahead with a constitutional referendum on Saturday despite calls from the outside world to postpone it after the devastation of Cyclone Nargis.

The plebiscite was postponed by two weeks in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta and the city of Yangon, but voting went ahead in other parts of the isolated southeast Asian country of 53 million.

State-run TV news repeated Friday's broadcasts urging people to vote, making no mention of the estimated 1.5 million victims of the cyclone without food and shelter or tens of thousands killed and missing in the vicious storm that struck a week ago.

"Those who value the national well-being should go and vote 'yes'," MRTV said in a scrolling headline on the screen.

Even before Nargis, groups opposed to military rule and foreign governments, led by the United States, had denounced the constitution and vote as an attempt by the military to legitimise its 46-year grip on power.

There is even more cynicism after the government's struggle to respond to the disaster about the generals' attempt to proceed with its "roadmap to democracy" meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010.

"Will this be voting? I don't think so," said one businessman in Myaung Mya, a town on the fringes of the devastated rice-growing Irrawaddy delta. "They take your name and ID number. Then they know if you give them a tick or a cross."

The government has accepted food, water and equipment from several countries and UN agencies, but appeared determined to distribute aid on its own.

Scores of relief experts, accustomed to entering a disaster zone within 48 hours, are still waiting for visas a week after the cyclone washed over the delta with high winds and waves.

The United Nations appealed for $187 million in aid, even though it is still not confident the food, water and tents flown in will make it to those most in need due the junta's reluctance to admit international relief workers.

During an emergency meeting in New York, dozens of UN envoys voiced concern at the difficulties aid workers were having getting in. But Myanmar's delegate insisted food and other supplies were being sent where needed upon arrival.-Reuters




Tags: cyclone | Myanmar | referendum |

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