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U.S. assails Myanmar election pledge; U.N. cautious
WASHINGTON (Reuters) - The United States on Monday accused Myanmar's military rulers of planning a sham referendum in a "pervasive climate of fear" but the United Nations reacted more cautiously to the junta's surprise election pledge.
Myanmar's leaders announced on Saturday they would hold a referendum on a new constitution in May followed by elections in 2010, a move critics said was aimed at deflecting pressure after last year's crackdown on pro-democracy protesters in the Asian country.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino dismissed the planned referendum, saying the junta's exclusion of opposition voices showed a "lack of seriousness" about democratic reform.
State Department spokesman Sean McCormack said the proposed constitution was drafted "in a closed process by a hand-picked committee dominated by senior regime officials."
"No referendum held under these conditions -- a pervasive climate of fear, in which virtually the entire opposition, including Aung San Suu Kyi, is under detention and the Burmese people have not been allowed to participate in, or even discuss, the drafting of a constitution -- can be free, fair, or credible," he added.
Myanmar's government drew international condemnation when its security forces crushed monk-led pro-democracy protests four months ago, killing at least 31 people.
In New York, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon's spokeswoman, Michele Montas, noted the junta's announcement gave its first timeframe for multi-party elections.
But she said Ban wanted the Myanmar's rulers to make the constitution-writing process more transparent and inclusive and to hold further talks with Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace laureate.
Montas said Ban also considered it essential that his special U.N. envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, be allowed to make his third visit to the country since the crackdown.
The Bush administration last Tuesday imposed its third package of sanctions meant to isolate Myanmar's rulers. But Washington has failed to convince China, Myanmar's key trading partner and arms supplier, to follow its example.
The elections would be the first held in the former Burma since 1990, when Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a multi-party poll later rejected by the military, which has ruled in various guises since 1962.
The NLD, which boycotted a constitution-drafting convention while its leader remains under house arrest, called the junta's announcement "erratic."
(Additional reporting by Susan Cornwell in Washington and Patrick Worsnip in New York)
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