Thursday, 22 May 2008

Myanmar kicks cyclone survivors out of shelters to make space for polling stations

YANGON, Myanmar (AP-IHT): With few places to seek refuge, the wooden schoolhouse seemed as good as anywhere.

Though its roof was partially blown off by Cyclone Nargis, and panels were ripped from its walls, hundreds of people swarmed here after the storm.

Now the government has forced them out to make space for a weekend vote on a new pro-military constitution — a referendum delayed in parts of Myanmar because of the deadly cyclone.

"The school will be used as a polling station," said Sandar, a teacher who refused to give her last name. "We needed people to leave."

"Most of them set up temporary bamboo huts," Sandar said Wednesday. Like most people in Myanmar, she did not want to be fully identified because the government dislikes people talking to the media.

As many as 2 million people are struggling to find the basic necessities of life following the May 2-3 storm, sleeping in tents near their shattered homes or crowding into monasteries, schools and other de facto relief shelters.

But many are being displaced again to make way for polling stations needed to hold a referendum that is — by official reckoning — already a done deal.

The government will open polls in the hardest-hit Irrawaddy delta and Yangon areas on Saturday. The rest of the country voted May 10; state radio said the late balloting could not reverse the constitution's approval by 92.4 percent of the 22 million eligible voters.

In a big pavilion — a flat expanse of concrete under a green sheet roof — also on the outskirts of Yangon, dozens of homeless were packing up.

About 100 old people and children put their stuffed canvas sacks and bags on the benches in the middle of the hall. Some people sat on the floor. Others were out on the road, waiting.

A half hour later, they were gone.

A green banner was being put up in front by men, apparently security personnel in plainclothes, along with polling tables inside.

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