Junta leader promises elections 'soon'

Burma's military ruler said today that long-awaited elections planned for sometime this year will take place "soon" but shed no light on exactly when.

Burma's military ruler said today that long-awaited elections planned for sometime this year will take place "soon" but shed no light on exactly when.

Burma's military government announced in early 2008 that the country's first election in two decades would take place in 2010.

But the junta still needs to pass necessary election laws to pave the way for the vote and then set a date.

"A free and fair election will take place soon," Senior General Than Shwe said in his annual message to mark the national holiday Union Day today.

He went on to explain what an election is.

"That means national people will have the rights to elect representatives, and stand for election," the 77-year-old Gen Than Shwe said in remarks published in state-controlled media.

"So, members of parliament, who the voters think will be capable of generating a prosperous future for the nation, will be elected by ballot."

The opposition party of detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi won the last election in 1990, but the results were never honoured by the military, which has ruled the country since 1962.

Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, has not yet decided whether to take part in the election.

The party says the new constitution of 2008 is unfair and will perpetuate military rule - a claim echoed by international rights groups. The constitution guarantees that 25% of parliamentary seats will go to the military. It also has a clause that would effectively bar Ms Suu Kyi from holding office.

Ms Suu Kyi has been detained for 14 of the past 20 years. She was sentenced in August to an additional 18 months' house arrest, which would keep her locked away through the election.

Union Day is the anniversary of a historic 1947 agreement between the country's ethnic groups and majority Burmans - led by General Aung San, Mr Suu Kyi's father - to gain independence from British colonial rule.

Ms Suu Kyi's party planned to hold a Union Day celebration at its party headquarters later in the day.

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