Sat, Mar 28, 2009 - Page 5 News List

Myanmar leader warns on democracy at annual Armed Forces Day parade

AFP , NAYPYIDAW

Soldiers covered with jasmine flowers wait for orders to begin a parade for Armed Forces Day in Myanmar’s administrative capital, Naypyitaw, yesterday.

PHOTO: AP

Myanmar junta chief Than Shwe urged political parties to shun foreign ideologies if they want democracy as the military put on a show of might at its annual parade yesterday.

More than 13,000 troops marched on the parade ground of the military-ruled nation’s remote administrative capital Naypyidaw for Armed Forces Day in the shadow of statues of old Burmese kings.

“Democracy in Myanmar today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention,” Senior General Than Shwe said in a 25-minute speech.

“Some parties look to foreign countries for guidance and inspiration, follow the imported ideologies and directives irrationally,” he said.

TIGHT SECURITY

Senior Myanmar junta officials attended the ceremony that began early in the morning amid tight security following a bomb blast in the commercial hub Yangon overnight that killed one person.

Than Shwe stayed for about an hour of the 90-minute ceremony that marks the beginning of resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II but is not open to the public.

The junta has announced elections next year as part of its so-called “roadmap to democracy,” but critics have denounced them as a sham designed to entrench the power of the military.

The party of detained pro-­democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, which won elections in 1990 put was never allowed to take power, has not said whether it will participate in the polls as she is not permitted to stand.

Under the roadmap, Myanmar has adopted a new Constitution after a widely criticized referendum held days after a cyclone ravaged large swathes of the country last May, leaving 138,000 people dead or missing.

Authorities said the referendum, carried out without independent monitoring, received support from 92.48 percent of voters.

Myanmar remains subject to strict sanctions by the US and other Western nations, which have urged the authorities to free Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for most of the last 19 years on political charges.

She is one of 2,100 political prisoners held in Myanmar, according to UN human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who recently visited and criticized dozens of recent jail terms handed down in closed-door hearings.

But a surprise meeting this week between a senior US official and junta officials prompted the State Department to deny the US was changing its stance as it undergoes a review of existing policy towards Myanmar.

UNREST

Meanwhile, Than Shwe said political parties needed to “refrain from inciting unrest, avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties and to find unity and diversity.”

“We have to ensure that the progress of democracy in the country does not affect non-disintegration of the union and non-disintegration of national solidarity,” he said.

Wearing his uniform with medals on his chest, the 75-year-old junta chief, who has ruled Myanmar since 1992, inspected troops from an open-top limousine at the annual parade.

It is one of the few occasions when he allows his image to appear in official media.

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