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Burmese Junta detains 20 activists

April 16, 2008

From Associated Press – Burma’s military junta detained more than 20 activists as they walked through the northwestern city of Sittwe in a peaceful rally against the country’s proposed constitution, an opposition party spokesman said Tuesday.

Meanwhile, Myo Nyunt, a youth member of the opposition party and a close aide of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, was arrested at his grandmother’s home near Yangon, said Nyan Win, spokesman for the National League for Democracy. He was taken from his home near Yangon on Tuesday morning.

He was given a 15-day prison sentence by a court for failing to report to authorities when he spent a night at someone else’s house, Nyan Win said.

In Burma, the law requires that a person inform local authorities when staying overnight at a house where they are not listed as a member. But Nyan Win said Myo Nyunt was sentenced because he was an active member of the party.

The arrests came ahead of the country’s May 10 referendum on a new constitution that critics say was drafted to perpetuate military rule.

The NLD has urged voters to reject the charter because it was drafted without any input from the junta’s critics and the country’s pro-democracy movement.

The protesters were wearing T-shirts printed with the word “No,” during a 5-day festival to celebrate Burma’s traditional New Year’s holiday.

Sittwe, the capital of Rakhine state in western Burma is known for its strong anti-military sentiment. It was the city where Buddhist monks first joined anti-junta rallies that swelled into nationwide protests last September. At least 31 people were killed when the military crushed the protests, sparking global outrage.

On Sunday, some youth activists in suburban Yangon were reprimanded by authorities and warned not to wear the “No” T-shirts, said a member of the NLD who asked not to be named for fear of official reprisal.

“Arrests of NLD members and intimidation against opponents of the regime’s draft constitution are becoming more frequent,” Nyan Win said, adding that several activists have also been attacked by unidentified assailants.

Last week, the NLD called on international observers to take part in the referendum. Junta officials rejected the idea of international observers when it was proposed by United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari last month.

The proposed constitution would ban anyone who enjoyed the rights and privileges of a foreign citizen from holding public office. This would keep Suu Kyi out of government because her late husband was a Briton.

The proposed charter allots 25 percent of the seats in both houses of Parliament to the military.

It also stipulates that no amendments to the charter can be made without the consent of more than 75 percent of lawmakers, making changes unlikely unless supported by military representatives.

The constitutional referendum is supposed to be followed by a general election in 2010.

Burma has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and scrapped the previous charter after violently quashing mass pro-democracy demonstrations.

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