Sun, May 11, 2008 - Page 4 News List

Protesters, rights group slam junta

MYANMAR MORASS Burmese activists expressed anger outside the junta’s embassy in Kuala Lumpur, while Human Rights Watch criticized Jakarta’s politics


About 500 Burmese activists demonstrated yesterday outside their country’s embassy in Malaysia, demanding that Myanmar’s military regime call off its constitutional referendum even as voting began despite the aftermath of a devastating cyclone.

The protesters, who included dozens of women and children, waved placards saying “We want democracy,” “No is our vote,” “Stop the junta” and “Don’t hold the referendum during mourning days.”

Most of them wore red T-shirts bearing the word “No.” Several people gave speeches and the crowd kept silent at one point to pray for victims of Cyclone Nargis, which struck the Myanmar coast a week ago and left more than 60,000 people dead or missing.

The one-hour rally was peaceful and the crowd dispersed after handing over a protest note to an embassy staff member. Dozens of riot police stood guard but took no action against the crowd.

“The constitution will neither yield national reconciliation nor democracy, instead it will prolong conflict and enhance problems and turmoil that will lead to the fleeing of citizens to neighboring countries,” the protest note said.

The activists urged Myanmar’s military rulers to launch genuine dialogue with all ethnic groups.

Balloting was taking place yesterday across most of Myanmar but was put off for two weeks in cyclone-hit areas, including the biggest city, Yangon. The government has called the vote an important step on its “roadmap to democracy,” but critics say the constitution is meant to perpetuate military rule.

Meanwhile, Indonesia’s move to block a resolution in the UN Security Council over Myanmar’s cyclone crisis was denounced as “unbelievable and unacceptable,” Sunai Phasuk, a representative of rights group Human Rights Watch, said yesterday.

Indonesia has no excuse for its cynical tactics because it received massive international help after the tsunami disaster in December 2004, the New York-based agency’s international representative said.

Myanmar’s deeply suspicious military regime has refused to allow most foreign aid workers to distribute aid in the crisis zones despite estimates that hundreds of thousands of people are homeless and in need of food, medicine and shelter.

It was “no surprise” that China also helped block attempts to force Myanmar’s reclusive generals into responding as China habitually protected the authoritarian ally, Sunai said.

China and Indonesia on Thursday rejected a French proposal allowing the Security Council to ratchet up the pressure on Myanmar to let aid workers have full access to survivors. The proposal said the Security Council might invoke “responsibility to protect” resolutions so that aid could be delivered whether the government in Yangon accepted it or not.

Human Rights Watch yesterday called for ASEAN, China and India to convince Myanmar to lift restrictions on international aid.

“But where is ASEAN? ASEAN wants nothing more than a quiet life and peace and stability, but this is a very foolish position,” Sunai said. “There is clearly the risk of a popular explosion in Burma as anger rises over the military’s lack of care for the people.”

ASEAN’s “shocking” delay in condemning last September’s brutal crackdown in Myanmar against protesting monks showed its true lack of heart, he added.

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