10 May, 2008

Myanmar activists demonstrated in Malaysia

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About 500 Myanmar activists demonstrated Saturday outside their country's embassy in Malaysia, demanding that Myanmar's military regime call off its constitutional referendum even as voting began despite a devastating cyclone.

The protesters, who included dozens of women and children, waved placards saying "We want democracy", "No is our vote", "Stop the junta" and "Don't hold the referendum during mourning days."

The one-hour rally was peaceful and the crowd dispersed after handing over a protest note to an embassy staff member. Dozens of riot police stood guard but took no action against the crowd.

Myanmar held a rare election on Saturday to approve a new army-drafted constitution, ignoring calls from the outside world to postpone the vote amid the devastation wreaked by Cyclone Nargis.

More than a week after Nargis (Daffodil) tore through the Irawaddy Delta, packing 190 kph (120 mph) winds that whipped up a wall of sea-water pulverizing everything in its path, aid was barely dribbling to 1.5 million increasingly desperate survivors.

The United Nations sent in three more planes and several trucks loaded with aid, though the junta took over its first two shipments. The government agreed to let a U.S. cargo plane bring in supplies Monday, but foreign disaster experts were still being barred entry.

The military government of Burma (Myanmar), in a dramatic turnaround, has offered to cooperate with the United Nations in its massive relief efforts in the cyclone-devastated country where the death toll could exceed 100,000.

"Our frustration levels have been going up and down,"

U.N.Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian Affairs John Holmes told reporters Friday.

"We were badly frustrated yesterday, we are a little less frustrated this afternoon, and we hope it will be better tomorrow," he added. "But we cannot afford to give up."

Myanmar's military regime distributed international aid Saturday but plastered the boxes with the names of top generals in an apparent effort to turn the relief effort for last week's devastating cyclone into a propaganda exercise.

State-run television continuously ran images of top generals — including the junta leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe — handing out boxes of aid to survivors at elaborate ceremonies.

One box bore the name of Lt. Gen. Myint Swe, a rising star in the government hierarchy, in bold letters that overshadowed a smaller label reading: "Aid from the Kingdom of Thailand."

"We have already seen regional commanders putting their names on the side of aid shipments from Asia, saying this was a gift from them and then distributing it in their region," said Mark Farmaner, director of Burma Campaign UK, which campaigns for human rights and democracy in the country.

"It is not going to areas where it is most in need," he said in London.

So far, relief workers have reached 220,000 cyclone victims, only a small fraction of the number of people affected, the Red Cross said Friday. Three Red Cross aid flights loaded with shelter kits and other emergency supplies landed Friday without incident.

But the government seized two planeloads of high-energy biscuits — enough to feed 95,000 people — sent by the U.N. World Food Program. Despite the seizure, the WFP was sending three more planes Saturday from Dubai, Cambodia and Italy, even though those could be confiscated, too.



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