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Burma Government Says Voters in Cyclone Region Approved Constitution

As cyclone victims in Burma continue to suffer with little relief, the military government says voters in cyclone-devastated areas have overwhelmingly approved a new constitution for the country. With 134,000 people dead or missing, and two million in need, aid agencies say they are testing the rulers' pledge to allow free access. As VOA's Ravi Khanna reports, the regime also is being accused of fraud and coercion in the voting in the devastated Irawaddy delta region.

The vote in the cyclone devastated region was delayed more than two weeks. But Burma's military government says the results among the victims of the storm were similar to the main May 10 referendum.

Burma's State media says, in overall voting, the constitution was approved with more than 92 percent of vote.

"It's very clear that this entire referendum is characterized by fraud, by coercion, by intimidation," said Debbie Stothard, an activist with the Alternative ASEAN Network on Burma, a human rights and democracy organization.

Burma's ruling generals say the constitution will pave the way for a general election in 2010. But under new constitution the detained pro-democracy movement leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, will not be allowed to run for office.

The regime held the vote even as the United Nations said three out of four victims have yet to receive any relief. And aid agencies say they are sending relief teams into Burma, to test the government's promise to allow unrestricted access.

Richard Horsey, of the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs told AP Television, the U.N. is ready to help.

"Now if we can get these experts out, we can start putting in place the water purification machines, warehousing and the other things that we need," he said.

Stothard says the military government is even using the aid for coercion.

"People who were trying to recover from the devastation of cyclone Nargis were told that they had to vote 'yes' if they wanted to receive aid," she said.

A Bangkok-based political analyst, Larry Jagan says he is not optimistic about a genuine democracy in Burma.

"But if there is to be a real transition to multi-party democracy, as all of the military leaders of Burma are insisting, then they have allow some form of liberalization," he said.

The constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats to the military and allows the president to hand over all power to the military in a state of emergency, elements that critics say defy the military government's professed commitment to democracy.