The government has also not released critical information about the polls, including the location of polling stations or a list of eligible voters.

 

Aung Toe, who heads the commission organising the referendum, read out the brief announcement on state television following a meeting in the remote capital, Naypidaw.

 

Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party said the date would give voters little time to study the 194-page basic law.

 

"They just started selling copies of the constitution to the public today," Nyan Win, the party spokesman, said.

 

"It is a very short time for people to study and to understand the whole thing."

Pro-democracy activists have rejected the proposed charter reform saying the generals are seeking to entrench their rule, but the government says will clear the way for democratic elections in 2010.

 

The proposed charter grants sweeping powers to the armed forces.

 

It would also bar the Aung San Suu Kyi, the Nobel peace laureate who has spent 12 of the past 18 years under house arrest, from running for office.

 

US disappointed

 

Reacting to the announcement, George Bush, the US president, said he was "disappointed" at the pace of democratic reforms in Myanmar.

 

"I would urge the military leadership there to open up and respond to the will of the people," he said.

 

Myanmar has not had a constitution since 1988, when the military government took power by crushing a pro-democracy uprising, leaving at least 3,000 dead.

 

If approved, the new charter would only take effect once parliament convenes following elections planned for 2010.

 

Last month the ruling generals turned down an offer by a UN envoy to send observers and provide technical support for the vote.

 

Myanmar last held elections in 1990, when Aung San Suu Kyi led her party to a landslide victory that has never been recognised by the military government.


The military government has largely ignored international criticism of its violent crackdown on anti-government protests in September.

 

The UN estimates at least 31 people were killed and Amnesty International says more than 700 remain behind bars.