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Burma Picks Candidates for President; Junta Leader Not on List

Image taken from video shows the inaugural session of the Burma parliament in Naypyitaw, February 1, 2011

Burma's new parliament has settled on a list of five candidates to become the country's first civilian president in more than half a century, with a final vote expected Thursday.

Delegates say the most prominent of the five candidates is Thein Sein, who heads the dominant military-backed party in parliament and served as prime minister in the outgoing military government. The full list of names is not available because reporters are barred from the parliamentary session, Burma's first in 20 years.

Only members of the parliament were eligible for the post, meaning longtime junta leader Than Shwe is not among the candidates. However he is expected to remain in a position of power, either as head of the military or as a behind-the scenes power broker.

The selection of a president is the most important piece of business for the parliamentary session, which is hailed by the government as a return to democracy and democratic rule. But critics denounced last year's elections as a sham and note that the most popular opposition party, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, was unable to participate.

More than 80 percent of the seats in the two chambers have gone to supporters of the military government. The military has held power in Burma since a coup in 1962.

Some information for this report was provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.