Referendum, the Burmese junta imposes early and rigged voting
With the excuse that on May 10 a day of work will be lost, together with a day's pay, soldiers are forcing village inhabitants to vote early and for the "yes". Authorities deny entry to journalists and diplomats.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - Burmese day labourers who will vote on the constitutional referendum on May 10 will be deprived of their pay, unless they choose to vote in advance and opt for the "yes".  This is the latest threat from the military leaders seeking approval from voters, who for the most part maintain that the new constitution is only an instrument to legitimise the power of the generals.  At the same time, the authorities are closing the borders to foreign visitors in the attempt to limit the presence of "inconvenient" journalists and observers in the days around the scheduled voting.

Sources for AsiaNews in the area of Mandalay denounce the pressure of soldiers in the villages, who are going from house to house telling people: "Vote for the yes now in a few minutes, instead of losing time and money on May 10; on that day the lines will be long and you your daily salary will not be reimbursed".  There are also cases in which food rations are promised for the entire year to villages that support the new charter.

In addition to the "no" of the voters, the threat that the regime is seeking to dismiss is that of foreigners.  The newspaper The Irrawaddy reports that there are restrictions on the granting of entry visas.  According to "reliable" sources close to the Burmese opposition cited by the newspaper, yesterday two Japanese citizens were stopped at the airport of Yangon and forced to return home, because they were suspected of being journalists.  The embassies are restricting even the tourism visas being released in this period.  All of the Burmese diplomatic offices abroad are scrupulously examining each request, submitting those of journalistic origin to the scrutiny of the information ministry as well.  In September, it was eyewitness accounts and reporting outside of the control of the regime that brought to international attention the violent repression of the protests of Buddhist monks.

Since then, however, that attention has been almost completely eliminated, while the bloody regime of Than Shwe continues to count on solid regional alliances.  Like the one with Thailand, where Burmese prime minister Thein Sein has been on official visit since yesterday.  His Thai counterpart, Samak Sundaravej, has not commented on the referendum, but has said that he is convinced that three parties will be able to participate in the upcoming general elections, promised for 2010.