Page last updated at 12:04 GMT, Thursday, 15 May 2008 13:04 UK

Burma 'approves new constitution'

General Than Shwe casts his vote, 10 May
The generals were criticised for holding the vote during a national crisis

A new constitution proposed by Burma's military rulers has been overwhelmingly approved in a referendum, according to the country's state-run media.

The junta said 92.4% voted "yes" in the ballot and reported a turnout of 99%.

The vote was held in two-thirds of the country, but was postponed for two weeks in areas hit by Cyclone Nargis.

Human Rights Watch labelled the result an "insult to the people of Burma", while an opposition group said the vote had been "full of cheating and fraud".

The junta pressed ahead with the referendum on 10 May despite the plight of tens of thousands of people left stricken by the devastating cyclone.

The worst-affected areas are still expected to vote on 24 May - but the threshold for approving the constitution has already been passed, rendering their votes meaningless.

Human Rights Watch was highly critical of the ballot.

"There is simply no way that 92%... would have voted 'yes' on a document that they know very little about and that most have never read," said David Mathieson, the body's Thailand-based spokesman.

The constitution enshrines the junta's hold on power and excludes the main opposition leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, from holding office.

Under its terms, 25% of seats in both houses of parliament would be guaranteed for the military - making it impossible to alter the constitution without their backing.

Ms Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, had campaigned for a "no" vote and denounced the results as a fraud.

"In some villages, authorities and polling station officials ticked the ballots themselves and did not let the voters do anything," said NLD spokesman Nyan Win.

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