Sunday, March 9, 2008

Philippines quick to criticise Burma polls ban

Manila (dpa) - Philippines President Gloria Macapagal Arroyo on Sunday urged the Burmese junta t reconsider its rejection of a UN proposal to allow observers at its constitutional referendum planned for May.

In a statement, Arroyo said it was "a sad day for democracy" and the Southeast Asian region that Burma rejected the proposal made by UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari in talks with election officials on Friday.

"A central pillar of democracy is a free and fair election," she said. "Outside observers are not a threat to any nation's sovereignty. Rather, the participation of outside election observers is a sign of strength.

"It is not too late for the government of (Burma) to accept the proposal by the UN," she added. "It is a small but modest step towards democratisation that is long overdue."

Burma has claimed it will hold a referendum on an unspecified date in May to endorse a controversial draft constitution compiled over the past 14 years by a military-appointed forum.

The proposed constitution enshrines the military's role as a powerful political force in any future elected government.

The date of the referendum will be announced 21 days prior to the event. It may be followed by a general election in 2010 as part of the ruling junta's "seven step road map" to democracy.

Burma and the Philippines are both members of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, which has been criticised in the past for failing to put more pressure on the military-ruled country to hasten democratic reforms.

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