04/04/2008, 00.00
MYANMAR
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Referendum: junta preparing crackdown with Beijing’s help

A month before controversial referendum on new constitution Myanmar’s military regime is taking steps to contain protests. China is shipping anti-riot trucks to the police, which is training volunteers to beat up activists. In prison inmates are being offered early release in exchange for a Yes vote on the referendum ballot.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Anti-riot trucks from China are arriving in the outskirts Yangon where volunteers are being train on how “to beat and disperse” demonstrators. In the meantime in Insein Prison guards are putting pressure on inmates to vote yes in the upcoming referendum whilst on the outside pro-democracy activists are increasingly being harassed and assaulted.

Myanmar is indeed preparing itself for next month’s referendum and this is how the ruling military junta is organising the process designed to sanction its draft constitution.

But a vast No campaign is also underway involving many dissident groups both inside and outside the country. Still theirs is an uphill battle, limited as it is, by the many measures taken by the military to prevent and eventually crack down on any form of civil protest during the campaign.

Citing eyewitness accounts, German news agency DPA has reported that China has delivered 80 FAW transport trucks to police grounds on the outskirts of Yangon.

Other informed sources said that an additional one hundred Made in China police and troop-transport trucks were due to be delivered soon to guarantee security during the poll.

Yet a month before the referendum the precise date of the vote and content of the draft constitution are still not known. What is certain though is that the latter will guarantee the military maintain their hold on power under the new rules.

Meanwhile activists and members of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), have come under increasing attacks from junta-backed thugs, daily The Irrawaddy reported.

Myint Hlaing, 74, NLD chairman for Yangon’s Hlaing Tharyar Township, was among recent victims of the military’s goon squads. He was attacked near his home in Yangon last Monday and left with a two-inch cut on his head.

Quoting sources in Yangon the paper also reported that local authorities have been giving riot-control training to members of state-backed organisations, teaching them on how to best beat and disperse crowds in case of demonstrations and, according to one witness, how to separate “those who are dead from the ones who are still alive.”

The authorities also seem bent on buying votes for the referendum. The Democratic Voice of Burma news agency has reported that prison authorities in Insein prison are trying to convince inmates to support the constitutional referendum in May in exchange for an early release.

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