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Page last updated at 11:22 GMT, Saturday, 10 May 2008 12:22 UK

Burma votes amid cyclone aid row

Aid for cyclone victims is loaded onto a plane in Bangkok, 10 May
Some aid is reaching Burma, but not the aid workers

A constitutional referendum has been held in Burma despite calls from the outside world for a postponement after last week's devastating cyclone.

The poll comes amid international criticism of Burma's military rulers for their handling of the crisis, in which tens of thousands have died.

The government says it welcomes foreign aid but not relief workers.

The first overland United Nations relief convoy has arrived in Burma, and more food relief is expected by air.

Saturday's referendum was held in two-thirds of the country, but was postponed for two weeks in the worst-hit areas - including the Irrawaddy delta and Rangoon, the main city.

The country's ruling generals say the vote will pave the way for democratic elections in 2010, while the opposition says it is intended to entrench military rule.

Burmese voter in the town of Hlegu, 10 May

Correspondents say many people in Burma are cynical about the vote.

"They take your name and ID number. Then they know if you give them a tick or a cross," an unnamed businessman told Reuters news agency.

People near the Thai border have told the BBC they had felt compelled to vote "yes" because of the presence of soldiers around polling stations.

Groups involved in last year's pro-democracy protests accused the junta of concentrating on a "sham constitutional referendum" instead of "putting all resources toward saving the lives" of cyclone victims.

Incommunicado

The UN has launched a $187m (96m) appeal for aid.

It says as many as 1.5 million people could have been affected by Cyclone Nargis, which struck on 3 May, and many say Burma does not have the capacity to respond adequately on its own.

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BBC Correspondent and Tim Costello from World Vision on Radio 4's The World At One (9 May)

On Saturday, a convoy from the UN refugee agency, UNHCR, crossed into Burma from Thailand with 22 tonnes of tents and other humanitarian supplies.

The UN's World Food Programme (WFP) is expected to send three more planes to the country later.

The WFP has been in talks with the government after aid flown in on Friday was impounded by the authorities who wanted to control its distribution.

Aid agencies already on the ground say they have been doing what they can but are frustrated by the government's reluctance to allow international aid teams into the country and its insistence on distributing aid itself.

On Friday Secretary General Ban Ki-moon warned of "catastrophic" consequences if Burma continues to ban most foreign aid workers from its cyclone relief work.

Mr Ban also says he has not been able to get through to Burma's leaders to speak to them directly.

Obstacles

Two BBC correspondents who have travelled to the Irrawaddy delta say tens of thousands of bodies are strewn across the landscape, with houses toppled and trees uprooted.

EXTENT OF THE DEVASTATION
Detail from Nasa satellite images

They say diseases like dysentery are already starting to take hold, and although some aid has arrived there is still no relief effort to match the size of the catastrophe.

Burma's ambassador to the UN, Kyaw Tint Swe, said his country was ready to accept help from any quarter.

He said the first US relief flight was expected to arrive on Monday.

Other aid has been flown in from Burma's allies, such as China and Thailand.




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