Sun, Nov 18, 2007 - Page 5 News List

Junta chief says Myanmar is on its way to democracy

AFP , YANGON, MYANMAR

Myanmar's junta chief Than Shwe has vowed in his first public speech since the regime's bloody crackdown on protests to go ahead with the country's "road map" to democracy, state media said yesterday.

Senior General Than Shwe also said the military had "always safeguarded the country" against any danger to the national interest, the official New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted him as saying in an address on Friday.

The crackdown in September sparked global outrage and led the US and the EU to tighten sanctions against the regime.

Under the junta's "road map" to democracy, Myanmar will adopt a constitution in a referendum, which, in theory, would eventually lead to free elections in a country which has been ruled by the military since 1962.

Than Shwe said the "road map" was "the only means to smooth transition towards a new state," the paper said.

In early September, the junta ended 14 years of talks to draft guidelines for a new constitution.

But the US, EU and the UN have dismissed the lengthy proceedings as a sham because of the absence of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi's political party.

A timeline for elections has not been laid out, and analysts have said the new charter would only serve to formalize the junta's role in government.

The crackdown ended protests which began in August over a sudden hike in fuel prices and snowballed into the biggest anti-government demonstrations in nearly 20 years.

Although Than Shwe did not specifically mention the September protests in his speech, he said there had been nationwide pro-junta rallies "denouncing destructive acts that hamper the peace and stability and development of the state."

UN rights investigator Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, who ended a five-day mission to Myanmar on Thursday, said on Friday that the junta told him that 14 people had been killed during the violent suppression of the protests, not including a Japanese journalist who was shot dead.

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