UPDATE 2-Myanmar junta urges patriotic 'yes' in referendum

Fri May 9, 2008 1:44pm IST

(Adds additional quote, edits)

By Aung Hla Tun

YANGON May 9 (Reuters) - Myanmar's junta urged citizens on Friday to do their patriotic duty and vote for an army-drafted constitution, without mentioning the 1.5 million people clinging to survival a week after a devastating cyclone.

"If you are patriotic and you love your nation you must give an affirmative vote," state-run MRTV announced.

The constitution, which goes before most of the former Burma's 53 million people on Saturday, is a key step in the military's seven-stage "roadmap to democracy".

The process is meant to culminate in multi-party elections in 2010 and bring to an end nearly five decades of military rule in the Southeast Asian country.

But it has been widely derided by the opposition and Western governments as the generals trying to legitimise the grip on power they have held since first seizing control of the country in 1962. The referendum is the first national vote since the 1990 election, which they lost by a landslide to Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy.

Popular singers, actors and musicians accompanied the MRTV broadcast, spouting slogans such as: "Approval of the draft constitution is the responsibility of every citizen, so go to the polling booth and approve the constitution."

"CRAZY"

The government said on Tuesday it would go ahead with the vote in parts of the country not affected by Cyclone Nargis, but postponed it by two weeks in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta and the city of Yangon and its outskirts.

In Yangon, the storm-ravaged former capital city of five million, people were stunned by the ruling generals' decision to proceed.

"It shows how unreasonable and crazy they can be. They just want to celebrate victory even though the people are suffering," one shop owner told Reuters. As with most people, he asked not to be identified for fear of recriminations.

"It makes no difference to me -- I've decided to vote "no" no matter when they hold it," he added.

Most people in and around Yangon are still far too busy trying to patch up their lives to think about politics.

"The only thing on our minds is getting enough food and water for our families," one carpenter in the city's eastern suburbs told Reuters. "I'm not going to vote. I don't have time."

Diplomats and disaster experts said the death toll from Nargis could rise as high as 100,000. The United Nations says 1.5 million people have been "severely affected".

State-run radio and TV have not updated the official toll since Tuesday, when it stood at 22,980 and 42,119 missing.

While the military has appealed for outside help for disaster victims, it has been reluctant to allow a full-scale international relief effort, delaying the approval of visas and landing rights for aircraft carrying urgently needed supplies.

Myanmar exiles in neighbouring Thailand accuse the junta of deliberately stalling because they do not want an influx of foreigners into the countryside during the referendum.

The new charter gives the military an automatic 25 percent of seats in parliament, control of key ministries and right to suspend the constitution at will. (Writing by Ed Cropley; Editing by Bill Tarrant)

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