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Jan 4, 2010 (AFP), Military-ruled Burma’s junta chief urged people on Monday to make "correct choices" at national elections to be held this year, in a message to mark the country’s 62nd independence anniversary.
Senior General Than Shwe said his seven-step "road map" to democracy was "the sole process for transition" in the annual message which was read out by another general at a ceremony in the remote administrative capital Naypyidaw.
"Plans are under way to hold elections in a systematic way this year. In that regard, the entire people have to make correct choices," Than Shwe’s message said.
Critics of Burma’s regime say the polls are a sham designed to cement the ruling generals’ grip over the nation, especially as opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi recently had her house arrest sentence extended beyond 2010.
A date has still not been announced for the elections, which will be the first since 1990 when the junta refused to recognise the landslide win of the National League for Democracy (NLD), led by Suu Kyi.
The 1991 Nobel Peace Prize winner has been locked up for 14 of the last 20 years, despite repeated calls from the international community for her release.
As in previous years, Than Shwe used the anniversary of the country’s independence from Britain to warn people "to remain vigilant at all times against dangers posed by neo-colonialists" – usually a reference to the United States.
Burma’s leaders marked the anniversary with a military parade in Naypyidaw, 400 kilometres north of the former capital Rangoon, attended by ministers, military officials and 1000 government staff.
The United States recently opened high-level dialogue with the junta after years of isolating Burma, and on Wednesday made a statement renewing its offer of better ties with the country if it makes progress on democracy.
The US State Department offered its "warmest wishes" to the people of Burma and its "unwavering support" for the nation’s independence.
Burma has been ruled by the military since 1962.