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Junta in Burma (Myanmar) presses ahead with vote, rebuffs most aid efforts

Critics say the junta's May 10 constitutional referendum is meant to enshrine military rule. Pledges of assistance continued to grow Friday.

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Burma's reclusive junta plans to push ahead with a referendum on a controversial Army-drafted constitution Saturday, even as its most populous province lies in ruins after last week's devastating cyclone.

The military is hoping the referendum, and a planned general election in 2010, can deflect renewed international pressure to open talks with Burma's opposition parties after soldiers used guns last September to quash a popular uprising.

Opposition groups, however, say the referendum is a sham to avoid meaningful dialogue. The cyclone prompted the junta to push the referendum date to May 24 in 47 affected towns, which include about one third of the population.

Still, holding the vote elsewhere in the country after one of the worst natural disasters in decades is prompting strong criticism.

"People are trying to find food and water, and the last thing on their mind is politics," says Aung Naing Oo, a Burmese political analyst based in Thailand. "In those areas affected by the cyclone, nobody is talking about the referendum. They are wondering when aid will arrive."

Junta still impeding aid

The military-ruled government's foot-dragging in providing relief and opening the door to outside aid workers may stem from fear that foreigners might observe the first vote of any kind in the country since Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Burma, led her NLD to a sweeping election victory 18 years ago.

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