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Burma's Constitution Vote Goes Ahead Despite Cyclone Devastation


Burma's military government has held a referendum on a new constitution, ignoring global appeals for the government to focus solely on cyclone recovery efforts.

Witnesses in Burma told VOA's Burmese service that security forces watched closely as voters cast their ballots Saturday.

Supporters of the opposition National League for Democracy say they were able to watch votes counted at some polling stations. In other places, only government staff and security forces were present.

The military says the new charter will lead to democracy and general elections in 2010. But the opposition says the constitution strengthens the army's control over the country.

Voting took place as more than a million people struggled to find food, water and shelter a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated Burma's Irrawaddy Delta region.

At least 62,000 people are dead or missing.

A White House spokesman, Gordon Johndroe, said Saturday that the United States wants the Burmese government to focus on helping people recover from the cyclone.

Burma's isolated military leaders have been slow to approve visas for foreign aid workers and has stalled the delivery of relief supplies by demanding that only Burmese soldiers can deliver the aid.

The U.N. World Food Program says it is resuming air shipments to Rangoon, after suspending food deliveries earlier in the week, when Burmese troops seized relief supplies.

U.S. government officials say Burmese authorities have agreed to allow one U.S. military plane to land in Rangoon Monday to deliver relief supplies.

The United Nations has launched a worldwide appeal for more than $185 million in emergency aid for cyclone victims.

Survivors are moving from village to village in search of supplies as bloated corpses line canals and riverbanks. Shelter is scarce and profiteers are charging exorbitant prices for food, gas and other essentials.

Some information for this report provided by AFP and Reuters.

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