/ 27 March 2009

Burma’s leader warns on democracy at military parade

Burma’s junta chief Than Shwe urged political parties to shun foreign ideologies if they want democracy as the military put on a show of might at its annual parade on Friday.

More than 13 000 troops marched on the parade ground of the military-ruled nation’s remote administrative capital Naypyidaw for Armed Forces Day in the shadow of statues of old Burmese kings.

”Democracy in Burma today is at a fledgling stage and still requires patient care and attention,” Senior General Than Shwe said in a 25-minute speech.

”Some parties look to foreign countries for guidance and inspiration, follow the imported ideologies and directives irrationally,” he added.

Senior Burma junta officials attended the ceremony that began early in the morning amid tight security following a bomb blast in the commercial hub Rangoon overnight that killed one person.

Than Shwe stayed for about an hour of the 90-minute ceremony that marks the beginning of resistance to Japanese occupation during World War II but is not open to the public.

The junta has announced elections in 2010 as part of its so-called ”roadmap to democracy”, but critics have denounced them as a sham designed to entrench the power of the military.

The party of detained pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, which won elections in 1990 put was never allowed to take power, has not said whether it will participate in the polls as she is not permitted to stand.

Under the roadmap, Burma has adopted a new Constitution after a widely criticised referendum held days after a cyclone ravaged large swathes of the country in early May last year, leaving 138 000 people dead or missing.

Authorities said the referendum, carried out without independent monitoring, received support from 92,48% of voters.

Burma remains subject to strict sanctions by the United States and other Western nations who have urged the authorities to free Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been detained for most of the last 19 years on political charges.

She is one of 2 100 political prisoners held in Burma according to United Nations human rights envoy Tomas Ojea Quintana, who recently visited and criticised dozens of recent jail terms handed down in closed-door hearings.

But a surprise meeting this week between a senior US official and junta officials prompted the State Department to deny the United States was changing its stance as it undergoes a review of existing policy towards Burma.

Meanwhile, Than Shwe said political parties needed to ”refrain from inciting unrest, avoid personal attacks and smear campaigns against other parties and to find unity and diversity”.

”We have to ensure that the progress of democracy in the country does not affect non-disintegration of the union and non-disintegration of national solidarity,” he added.

Wearing his uniform with medals on his chest, the 75-year-old junta chief, who has ruled Burma since 1992, inspected troops from an open-top limousine at the annual parade.

It is one of the few occasions when he allows his image to appear in official media. — Sapa-AFP