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ASIAN CANADIAN

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Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Myanmar opposition calls on world to boycott Beijing Olympics

Mick Elmore, THE ASSOCIATED PRESS
BANGKOK, Thailand - Pro-democracy activists in Myanmar called Monday for the world to boycott this year's Beijing Olympics over what they said was China's continuing support of Myanmar's military dictatorship.

The 88 Generation Students group, which was instrumental in last year's pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar, urged "citizens around the world ... to boycott the 2008 Beijing Olympics in response to China's bankrolling of the military junta that rules our country of Burma with guns and threats." Myanmar is also known as Burma.

The 88 Generation Students joined a growing group of critics urging an Olympic boycott over complaints ranging from Beijing's human rights record to its failure to more actively press Sudan - where China is a major oil buyer - to end violence in the Darfur region.

Hollywood director Steven Spielberg quit earlier this month as an artistic adviser for the Beijing Olympics, saying China was not doing enough about Darfur.

The 88 Generation Students accused China - one of Myanmar's key trading partners - of arming their country's junta and failing to facilitate a meaningful dialogue between it and detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and her National League for Democracy party.

"Our constructive outreach to China has been met with silence and more weapons shipments," the group said in a statement.

A Myanmar government spokesman could not immediately be reached for comment.

Myanmar has been under military rule since 1962 and has not had a constitution since 1988, when the army violently suppressed pro-democracy protests and the current junta took power.

In September, the junta crushed peaceful protests that were triggered by rising food prices but expanded to include demands for democratic reforms. The U.N. estimates the crackdown killed at least 31 people, and thousands more were detained.

Under intense international pressure, the junta announced plans this month for a referendum in May on a proposed new constitution written under military guidance, to be followed by general elections in 2010.

The junta's domestic and international critics, however, say the plans are undemocratic because they do not involve open debate and bar Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, from taking part in the elections.

During a visit to Singapore on Monday, U.N. special envoy for Myanmar Ibrahim Gambari and Singapore Foreign Minister George Yeo hailed the planned referendum and election, but agreed that "for national reconciliation to be achieved, the referendum and elections had to be credible and inclusive," the Foreign Ministry said, without elaborating.

Gambari said Friday he was frustrated with Myanmar's slow progress toward democracy. He expects to visit Myanmar in the first week of March to resume talks with the country's military rulers.

Suu Kyi's party won the last elections in 1990, but the military refused to hand over power. She has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

© The Canadian Press, 2008

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