Page last updated at 10:37 GMT, Monday, 4 January 2010

Burma leader Than Shwe gives election warning

Senior General Than Shwe, archive image
Than Shwe said his roadmap was "the sole process for transition"

Burma's military leader Than Shwe has urged people to make what he called the "correct choices" when elections are held at some point later this year.

General Than Shwe made his comments in a message to mark Independence Day.

He said his government's seven-stage roadmap was the only way for the country to achieve democracy.

A date for the elections has not been set, but they will be the first since 1990, when the military refused to recognise the opposition's victory.

According to the BBC's South East Asia correspondent, Rachel Harvey, the coming year could prove to be a watershed for Burma, but no-one is making any firm predictions on the outcome.

Growing divide

In his annual message read out by another military general at a ceremony in the remote new capital Nay Pyi Taw, Senior General Than Shwe said his seven-step "roadmap to democracy" was "the sole process for transition".

Than Shwe did not spell out exactly what he meant by "correct choices", but many in Burma will interpret his comments as an implicit warning, our correspondent says.

The underlying message appears to be that the military government's plan is the only game in town and it will be played according to the generals' rules.

The election will be the first in Burma since the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by the detained democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, won a landslide victory in 1990.

It was a result the military leadership refused to recognise - and the NLD was never allowed to take power.

The NLD has not said whether it intends to contest this year's poll, but in its own Independence Day statement, the party appealed for what it called transparent and sincere dialogue towards national reconciliation.

It also referred to the growing divide between rich and poor in Burma, and said that the majority of people were suffering.

There have been unconfirmed reports in some areas of dissent in the lower ranks of the military over pay and conditions.

Some observers believe that deteriorating economic circumstances as much as political manoeuvring could ultimately decide Burma's future.

The US, which recently changed its policy to one of engagement with the military government, used the occasion of Burma's Independence Day to offer support for the country's independence.

But Washington also said it looked forward to the day when people could freely exercise their universal human rights.

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