Myanmar pushes constitution amid protests

The military government admits it is detaining about 60 protesters.

Associated Press
Published September 2, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar - Myanmar's military government marched ahead Saturday with its much-criticized plans for a new constitution amid U.S. pressure on the United Nations to condemn the junta's iron-fisted treatment of protesters.

A national convention to draw up guidelines for the new constitution completed its tasks Friday, and was to formally end Monday, delegates said.

Details of the gathering have not been released, but it is the first stage of a so-called road map to democracy implemented by the junta in this Southeast Asian nation to lead to elections at an unspecified date.

Critics call the process a sham because the junta hand-picked most delegates, and because opposition leader and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi - who remains under house arrest - cannot attend.

The convention was ending as anti-government protesters scattered to dodge arrest after a wave of protests over fuel price hikes imposed by the government.

The junta has detained scores of activists involved in the rare displays of public opposition, which began Aug. 19. The government admits detaining about 60 people, but opposition activists say the number is closer to 100. Some have been released.

President Bush has urged Myanmar's government to heed international calls to release all activists, while the State Department has said U.S. officials will work to raise the subject of Myanmar at the U.N. General Assembly meeting in September.

First lady Laura Bush called U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon Friday to urge him to condemn the treatment of dissidents and to press for the Security Council to prevent more violence. On Aug. 23, Ban called on Myanmar authorities to exercise maximum restraint in responding to protests and encouraged all parties to avoid provocative action, a statement considered weak by critics of the junta.

In Geneva, the U.N.'s independent expert on human rights in Myanmar, Paulo Sergio Pinheiro, said Friday he had received allegations that detainees had been severely beaten and tortured.

He also said the crackdown was especially bad in light of the junta's efforts to promote democracy, and a coming visit to Myanmar by U.N. Undersecretary-General Ibrahim Gambari.