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Page last updated at 14:30 GMT, Friday, 9 April 2010 15:30 UK

Asean leaders issue Burma election call

Aung San Suu Kyi supporter wears a T-shirt bearing her image on 23 March 2010
Asean leaders said Burma's elections should be inclusive

South East Asian leaders have urged Burma's military government to hold free and inclusive elections.

In a statement, the leaders of the Asean regional grouping said the move would help the country to stabilise and focus on development.

Burma's military rulers recently enacted election laws ahead of polls expected later this year.

The laws prevent detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other key figures from taking part.

The Asean summit is taking place in the Vietnamese capital, Hanoi.

Leaders had planned to focus on improving relations between the bloc and regional trading partners.

But the issue of Burma - and the absence of the Thai prime minister due to protests - overshadowed proceedings.

'Credible'

In a news conference at the end of the summit, Vietnamese Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung said the elections in Burma should be "fair, democratic, with the participation of all parties".

"This will help... stabilise the country and focus resources on development," he said.

Indonesia's Foreign Minister Minister Marty Natalegawa echoed his call, saying Burma had to keep its promises.

"The main message that's coming out from the summit is the importance of the elections that are coming up in 2010," he said.

"And not any type of elections, but instead an election that is free, that is fair, that is democratic, that is credible.

"These are qualities that Myanmar [Burma] itself has said they want to fulfil. So I think the clarion call... is the importance for Myanmar to live up to the commitments."

Observers say the comments were unusually strong for Asean, which has been criticised in the past for failing to take a stand on members' human rights issues.

Burma's military leaders say they will hold the first elections in two decades some time this year.

But their recently-enacted election laws have been widely criticised.

One law bans those with criminal convictions from taking part - ruling out most key opposition leaders, who have been jailed for their political activism.

Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), has already said that it will boycott the polls.

The NLD won the last elections in 1990 but was never allowed to take power.

Asean, or the Association of South East Asian Nations, combines the more developed economies of Indonesia, Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand, the Philippines, Vietnam and Brunei, with Burma, Laos and Cambodia.



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