05/10/2008, 00.00
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"Regular" voting at all costs, in a devastated country

The junta suspends aid to 1.5 million survivors in need of food and shelter, in order to send the army to the polls. Meanwhile, it is confiscating material from all over the country with the excuse of collecting aid. The protests of the Burmese exiles in Japan, Malaysia, Thailand.

Yangon (AsiaNews) - The military junta of Myanmar today conducted "regular" voting in the referendum for the approval of the constitution, indifferent to the at least 1.5 million people struck by the cyclone Nargis, whose situation becomes more dire hour by hour.  Protest demonstrations have been held in Japan, Malaysia, and Thailand.

According to experts, further delays in aid could cause a "second disaster" among the survivors, who are without food and shelter, and vulnerable to malaria and dysentery.  Tens of thousands of bodies are still unburied, and the streets are blocked by trees and dirt.  But state television does not mention any of this, instead showing a commercial with five young women dressed in colourful clothing and singing peppy songs about "going to vote", reminding citizens that it is their "civic duty" to approve the constitution crafted by the military officials to legitimise their power.  The situation is so serious that the United Nations, after suspending aid yesterday because the junta had been using it for its own purposes, resumed it a few hours later in the hope that it might reach the victims anyway.  But now the army has stopped distributing aid, in order to supervise the voting.  The voting has been "delayed" for two weeks only in the devastated areas like Yangon and the region of the Irrawaddy.

The Burmese junta continues to ration out entry permits for international humanitarian organisations, and is requiring all citizens (in schools, offices, homes, and associations) to "contribute with offerings" to the aid for the victims of Nargis.  In reality, this is nothing but pure theft, sources in the south of the country tell AsiaNews: the military is confiscating material from shops, factories, and businesses, without any opportunity for opposition.  It is just the latest violation committed to the detriment of a society already on its knees from decades of the obtuse policies of the regime.

Hundreds of Burmese exiles have protested in nearby countries.  In Kuala Lumpur, about 500 people, with T-shirts with the word "no" (to the referendum) and carrying posters reading "Cyclone Nargis and the junta are assassins" gathered outside the Burmese embassy, many of them praying in silence.  One of their leaders, Than Tun Aung, observes that "the military has been pointing the gun at our people for too long, they cannot take pity with this cyclone". Protests have also been held in the streets of Tokyo, and in front of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

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See also
Sham referendum a "success", but Myanmar risks a "disaster"
Nargis: more than 100,000 dead, the PIME joins aid efforts
Cyclone Nargis, pressure on the junta to accept international aid
Alarm of disease and hunger for the survivors of Nargis
Nargis: the junta barters aid in exchange for "yes" vote on the constitution


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