West to keep pressure on Myanmar

UK ambassador calls first election in 20 years a "missed opportunity" while China hopes for a smooth poll.

    The government bills the elections, in which Aung San Suu Kyi's party is barred, as 'roadmap to democracy' [EPA]

    Britain views elections in Myanmar this weekend as a "badly missed opportunity" that offer no optimism for democratic change in the foreseeable future, the UK ambassador to the country says.

    Andrew Heyn on Thursday said Britain, one of the military government's leading critics, and the 27-nation European Union will continue to press for progress in Myanmar.

    "These elections are going to be neither free, nor fair, nor inclusive," he said. "There is nothing in these elections themselves that could give us grounds for optimism."

    Myanmar will stage on Sunday its first election in 20 years, and  the ruling generals have maintained that the vote will mark the dawn  of democracy after almost five decades of military rule.

    Britain, the US and the EU have long maintained economic sanctions against Myanmar to pressure the military government to improve human rights and release detained Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, along with 2,100 other political prisoners.

    Myanmar's rulers have ignored those demands.

    Britain and others in the international community say that harsh restrictions on campaigning, the repression of Suu Kyi's opposition party and the new constitution reflect the military's intention to continue its commanding role.

    The military has ruled Myanmar, earlier known as Burma, since 1962.

    China's support

    In sharp contrast to the British ambassador's assessment, a Chinese official has said his government hopes for a "smooth election" at the weekend in Myanmar.

    "We hold that to safeguard domestic stability in Myanmar and ensure a smooth election is in the fundamental interests of the  people of Myanmar" and in the interests of regional prosperity, Hong Lei, a Chinese foreign ministry spokesman, said on Thursday

    "China respects the independent choice of the Myanmarese people's development path and hopes to see a smooth election in  Myanmar as well as continued progress in democracy and development in the country."

    China is one of Myanmar's closest allies and has long helped it to keep afloat through trade ties, arms sales, and by shielding it from UN sanctions over rights abuses as a veto-wielding member of the UN Security Council.

    In the run-up to the election, the generals have put on a show of force in Myanmar's largest city. Lorries carrying police in riot gear, some carrying M-16s and teargas guns, have circled Yangon in recent days, causing traffic jams and fear among residents.

    SOURCE: Agencies


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