Page last updated at 21:54 GMT, Friday, 2 May 2008 22:54 UK

UN calls for fair Burmese ballot

By Laura Trevelyan
BBC News, United Nations

Pro-democracy Burmese citizens raise their passports outside the embassy in Singapore as they vote early in the referendum on 27 April
Some Burmese abroad were allowed to vote early - others were barred

The UN Security Council has urged Burma to ensure fundamental political freedoms are respected in the 10 May referendum on a constitution.

Its statement also called on the military government to allow all political actors to participate in a free, fair and credible ballot.

But it made no reference to jailed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

China, a close trading partner of Burma, objected to mentions in the first two drafts of the statement.

Also out are calls for Burma's government to release all political prisoners, and take tangible and timely steps towards genuine dialogue.

Diplomats say China regarded such language as unhelpful.

China's UN ambassador told reporters it was not up to the Security Council to say what the conditions should be for each referendum.

Burma has faced international pressure to make democratic reforms since it cracked down on pro-democracy protests led by Buddhist monks last September.

Ibrahim Gambari, the UN envoy to Burma, has made three visits to the country but little progress towards getting talks going between the government and the opposition.

The New-York based organisation Human Rights Watch has denounced the referendum as a sham designed to entrench the military in power.

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