Thursday, 10 April 2008

Rudd comments blacked out

April 10, 2008

* Rudd Tibet comments ignored by Chinese press
* Rudd's manadarin skills widely reported
* Rudd attending state welcoming ceremony today

CHINA'S state-run press has all but ignored Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd's comments about human rights problems in Tibet, while lavishing praise on his knowledge of China.

"Australian Prime Minister Kevin Rudd enthralled his audience at Peking University with an intimate grasp of China affairs and a thorough understanding of global politics yesterday," the China Daily wrote today.

The English-language newspaper highlighted a quote from Mr Rudd expressing his opposition to a boycott of the Olympic Games, without mentioning Tibet.

The People's Daily, the Communist Party's main mouthpiece, also reported on Mr Rudd's support for the Olympics, while the Beijing Youth Daily highlighted his humourous quips.

Most papers also reported on Mr Rudd's fluent Mandarin skills and the fact he delivered his speech in Chinese.

But none of the major newspapers mentioned his more controversial comments on Tibet.

"Australia, like most other countries, recognises China's sovereignty over Tibet but we also believe it is necessary to recognise there are significant human rights problems in Tibet," he said in his speech yesterday.

"The current situation in Tibet is of concern to Australians."

The Global Times newspaper, which belongs to the People's Daily and reports mainly on foreign affairs issues, appeared to be the only mainstream media outlet to report his Tibet comments.

China's media, which is under the strict control of the ruling Communist Party, has over recent weeks severely criticised the Western press for supposed bias in covering the past of month of Tibetan unrest.

Today Mr Rud was attending a lavish welcoming ceremony with Chinese Premier Wen Jiabao at the Great Hall of the People in Beijing.

Violence erupted in Tibet on March 14, after four days of peaceful protests to mark the anniversary of a failed 1959 uprising against Chinese rule in the Himalayan region.

Tibetan exiles leaders say more than 150 people have been killed in a Chinese crackdown on the unrest, claims China's press has ignored or sought to discredit.

Instead it has highlighted the Chinese Government's statements that Tibetan "rioters" killed 20 people.

Bush condemns Myanmar after meeting with Singapore minister

(AP) WASHINGTON: U.S. President George W. Bush and Singapore Senior Minister Goh Chok Tong on Wednesday urged Myanmar's ruling military junta on Wednesday to begin talks with opposition forces.

Bush said he and Goh talked about how Myanmar's military "shouldn't fear the voices of people. And yet they do. I'm disappointed with the progress made to date there and would urge the military leadership there to open up and respond to the will of the people."

Myanmar's junta has received worldwide criticism since soldiers killed and arrested protesters, including Buddhist monks, last year. Rights groups have reported continued arrests and abuse, despite claims by the junta that the crackdown has stopped. Myanmar, also known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962.

Goh said, "The army has to be part of the solution. Without the army playing a part in solving problems in Myanmar, there will be no solution."

Bush said he and Goh also discussed a recent Chinese crackdown on anti-government protesters in Tibet. He said that "it would stand the Chinese government in good stead if they would begin a dialogue with the representatives of the Dalai Lama," Tibet's exiled Buddhist leader.
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Goh added that China talking with the Dalai Lama is "the only way for them to contain this problem."

Junta releases handbook for referendum officials

Reporting by Khin Maung Soe Min

Apr 9, 2008 (DVB)
–The Burmese referendum commission has released a handbook for ballot station officers which gives guidelines and practical details on how voting will be conducted in the May referendum.

Under the guidelines, seven officials will be assigned to polling stations designed for 1000 voters, with more officials sent to supervise larger stations.

The officials will include a station supervisor, vote examiners, security officers and vote handlers.

The handbook states that each polling booth should contain a pen attached with a chain to prevent it being stolen, and instructs ballot stations to keep spare blank votes for an additional 10 percent of the number of expected voters in case they are needed.

U Aung Htoo of the Burma Lawyers Council said the guidelines were inadequate and would not ensure a fair vote.

“The weak point of the handbook is that it doesn’t say how many people are allowed to vote in the referendum,” he said.

“The book also points out that votes should be counted in the ballot stations but the results should not be made public. This makes it obvious the government is plotting to rig the results of the voting.”

Copies of the handbook have not yet been made available to the public.

Detained monks to be given lay identity cards

Reporting by Aye Nai

Apr 9, 2008 (DVB)–Monks detained in Insein prison are being issued with lay identity cards in preparation for the May referendum, high-profile monk U Gambira told his sister during a recent prison visit.

Ma Khin Thu Htay, U Gambira’s sister, said prison authorities had asked the monk for his views on the upcoming referendum.

"U Gambira told me he was asked to discuss the referendum with government officials in Insein prison, but he apparently told them there was nothing to discuss as he does not recognize the draft constitution they have prepared," Khin Thu Htay said.

"He said they then asked him to at least say if he would vote 'Yes' or 'No' to the referendum and he told them he would choose to say 'No'."

U Gambira denounced Insein prison officials for forcing monk detainees to go back to their lay status and preparing to issue them with lay identity cards for the upcoming referendum.

"The prison authorities are preparing to issue lay ID cards for monks in detention. U Gambira told them he didn't need to get one as he already has a monk identification document," Khin Thu Htay said.

"U Gambira told prison officials he would report the matter to international organisations if the authorities continued to force monks to accept lay ID cards."

Under the junta’s referendum law introduced in February, monks and other members of religious orders are not eligible to vote.

People serving prison terms for any offence will also be excluded from the poll.

A family member of another Insein prison inmate told DVB earlier this month that prison authorities had been offering detainees a sentence reduction if they agreed to vote in favour of the constitution after their release.

Khin Thu Htay said the metta chanting campaign among Insein prison inmates, instigated by U Gambira, is continuing.

U Gambira has recently faced further interrogation sessions, but Khin Thu Htay said his remand for one of the charges against him has not been extended.

U Gambira, leader of the All-Burmese Monks Alliance, was arrested on 4 November 2007 in Sintgaing township, Magwe division, for his role in instigating public protests in September.

Referendum Commission circular to ensure secret vote

Nay Thwin
Mizzima News
April 9, 2008

Chiang Mai – The Burmese military junta authorities wants the voting during the ensuing referendum in May to be secret. The National constitutional referendum commission has sent a circular to that effect to all its subordinate commissions at different levels.

The circular directs all subordinate commissions at ward and village levels in detail to make sure the vote is secret.

The 27-page circular instructs in detail how to build the polling station, the functions of poll booths officials and heads, detailed procedure before, during and after the voting.

"It's detailed and complete. As far as I have read the circular, if they strictly follow it, the referendum will certainly be free and fair. Only they need to follow it", Ko Kyaw Lin Oo, Thai based monitoring group member, said.

Ko Kyaw Lin Oo is the Director of 'Burma Democratic Concern' Thailand branch, which is advocating the casting of a 'No' vote in the referendum. The organization has branches in Thailand, UK and US, and is advocating not to recognize the constitution drafted by the regime and to monitor the regime's referendum to make sure there is no rigging and the referendum is free and fair.

According to the circular, there must be one polling booth if there are under 3,000 voters and 5 to 10 polling officials including a polling station head who will supervise the referendum.

There will be one ballot box if the voters are under 1,000, two for over 1,000 voters and three ballot boxes for voters under 3,000.

For the security of the polling booths, there will be police personnel or two to three poll booth assistants assigned by the concerned Ward and Village Tract Commission.

These security personnel will be responsible for smooth and systematic voting in the polling booths.

The voters shall tick their choice at the designated place in the polling booth and then cast their vote in the ballot box in person. The voters must use a ball pen placed on the table in the polling booth to tick on the ballot paper.

The voters must write 'X' for 'NO' vote and 'tick' the 'YES' vote on ballot papers.

The poll booth official will check the voter's ID against the voters list and then will issue the ballot paper if satisfied.

The voters must sign against their name in the voters' list 'remark' column when they receive the ballot paper or press the left thumb impression if the voter is illiterate.

The ballot papers will be invalid if there is no signature of the poll booth head, unclear marking on the ballot paper, no marking on the ballot paper, torn ballot paper, forged ballot paper as believed by the poll booth official.

The ward and village tract poll booth head must keep extra ballot papers equivalent to 10 per cent of voters in the poll booth concerned which is to be replaced with the ballot paper issued to the voters if they demand it.

The polling stations will be opened from 6 a.m. to 4 p.m. on the poll date and voters who reach polling stations before 4 p.m. will be allowed to cast their votes even after 4 p.m.

The polling station head must count 'YES' vote, 'NO' vote, invalid vote and extra ballot papers before the public when the polling stations close. Then wrap and pack all these ballot papers properly and send it to the higher commission offices.

Making loud noises which will hamper the voting within 500 yards of the polling stations is strictly prohibited.

The regime has not yet fixed the exact date of referendum though they have announced they would hold the referendum in May this year.

China, Russia Oppose UN Security Council’s Draft Presidential Statement

The Irrawaddy News

China and Russia objected to a draft UN Security Council presidential statement on Burma on Monday that called for an early end to military rule and full participation of all political opposition groups.

Drafted by three permanent members of the Security Council—the US, Britain and France—the proposed presidential statement was circulated among the 15-members of the Security Council.

The draft statement was then discussed by Council members at what is called the “expert level.” It was during that meeting that China strongly objected to the contents of the draft statement. Russia followed, but with a less stringent objection, according to observers.

The Chinese objection, it is understood, was based on two major points— elections and the end the military rule. The draft statement is believed to have called for the government to bring an early end to military rule and to begin a transition to democracy.

Nothing the Burmese government’s planned constitutional referendum in May, and multi-party general elections in 2010, the draft statement emphasized the need for the process to be inclusive and credible, said sources.

The statement also called on the military government to allow the full participation of all political groups and individuals, including Aung San Suu Kyi, the leader of a major opposition group.

“The Security Council further notes the commitment by the Government of Myanmar [Burma] to ensure that the referendum will be free and fair and that all will be allowed to participate on equal terms, and stresses that this commitment must be followed by action, including the guarantee of freedoms of expression, association and assembly in the political process leading to the referendum, as well as independent monitoring of the referendum,” it said.

No presidential statement could be approved without the consent of China and Russia, which wield veto power. The last presidential statement on Burma was issued on October 11, 2007, after negotiations between members.

How Can the Constitutional Referendum be Monitored?

The Irrawaddy News

It’s now clear that many people in Burma will cast a “No” vote against the military government’s constitutional referendum in May.

On April 4, the words “No” appeared on the walls of several locations in Mandalay, Burma’s second largest city.

“We have spray-painted ‘No’ on walls,” a campaign organizer told The Irrawaddy. The “Vote No” campaign will proceed, he said, in spite of the junta’s new law that prohibits any opposition to the referendum.

The National League for Democracy, the main opposition group, has called on the electorate “to clearly and bravely vote ‘No’” in the referendum. The NLD took nearly two months to make its official announcement.

A “No” vote is required, said the NLD, because the draft constitution was written by “hand-picked puppets” of the military government and lacks basic principles of democracy and human rights. The NLD was the major winner in the 1990 general elections.

Meanwhile, a small group of people inside and outside Burma have expressed support for the draft. However, there is little likelihood of a real debate between “No” and “Yes” groups at this stage.

If the “Vote No” campaign gained significant momentum, there’s always the possibility that the junta might cancel the referendum, or, if the referendum proceeds, that the election results will be rigged by the junta’s so-called poll-watchers, including the Union Solidarity and Development Association.

Because the junta has banned outside poll-watchers, it’s up to the NLD and other groups to try to monitor the referendum as well as they can.

A proposal to allow international observers to monitor the referendum by UN Special Envoy to Burma Ibrahim Gambari in March was rejected outright by the military authorities.

“We are a sovereign country,” they said. “We have done these things before without international help.”

Gambari told The Irrawaddy in a recent exclusive interview: “Our position is that their situation has been the subject of international concern, so [there is a need] to enhance the credibility of the process, to meet the exercise of their sovereign right to ask for help. Technical assistance or even independent monitors need not come from the UN—it could be from international monitors or neighboring countries or from friendly countries.”

There is no chance the junta will change its mind and accept the UN’s proposal.

Therefore, the NLD and other activist groups have the impossible task of trying to monitor the election. They risk sever penalties if they are seen to be obstructing the referendum process because of the junta’s new law, enacted in February and signed by junta Snr-Gen Than Shwe, provides for up to three years imprisonment and a fine for anyone who distributes statements or posters or who makes a speech against the referendum.

An NLD member was arrested on Sunday for possessing a NLD party statement calling for a “No” vote, according to party spokesperson Nyan Win.

The junta has created a situation that prohibits any effective monitoring of the referendum. To do so, risks imprisonment. Opposition groups have again been out maneuvered by the wily generals.

The “Vote No” campaign is likely to produce the desired results, but the question is will the referendum’s official outcome reflect the people’s vote, or—more likely—what the generals want?

Myanmar junta schedules constitutional referendum for May 10

10th April 2008

YANGON — Myanmar’s military government announced Wednesday it will hold a nationwide referendum on the proposed constitution on May 10. The government’s 45-member Referendum Holding Commission scheduled the referendum at a meeting held at the administrative capital Naypyitaw, according to official media reports. The government in February had said the vote would be held in May, but had not given an exact date.

Earlier in the day, the junta made the text of its proposed constitution available to the public. The draft constitution would guarantee the military’s continued role in government and ban Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi from holding public office. Pro-democracy groups including Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, have already urged voters to reject the draft charter, saying it is designed to legitimize the military rule.

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