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Burma Convenes Constitutional Convention - 2004-05-17


Burma's military rulers have opened a constitutional convention, despite a boycott by the country's pro-democracy opposition.

More than a thousand delegates, mostly handpicked by the government from all walks of life, attended opening ceremonies today (Monday) at a specially-renovated complex north of the capital of Rangoon.

Lieutenant General Thein Sein, the meeting's chairman, said in opening remarks that a state constitution is the duty of all citizens of the country.

Military officials say a new constitution will be Burma's first step in a so-called "road map to democracy," but foreign diplomats in the Burmese capital say the convention has already lost credibility because of the opposition boycott.

The main opposition party, the National League for Democracy, said it will not take part because its leader, Aung San Suu Kyi, remains under house arrest. Joining the boycott is Burma's second largest pro-democracy party, the Shan Nationalities League for Democracy.

Foreign journalists have been banned from the venue. The media watchdog group Reporters Without Borders say Burmese officials have refused journalists visas, subjected them to intimidation and imposed censorship.

The military convened a similar convention in 1993, but it collapsed when the NLD walked out, saying it was being forced to rubber-stamp the junta's decisions.

Information for this report is provided by AP and AFP.

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