Burma's top military leader says plans for elections in 2010 under a controversial roadmap to democracy are well underway.

The state New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted Senior General Than Shwe Saturday as saying the seven-step road map is the only way to smoothly transition to democracy.

The paper said Than Shwe was speaking Friday to annual meeting of the Union Solidarity and Development Association.  Authorities say about half the country's population belong to the pro-military social organization.

Initial steps of the roadmap included drafting a new constitution and having it approved by a national referendum in May, soon after Typhoon Nargis devastated large areas of the country.

The draft constitution was ratified with more than 92 percent of the vote, a result Western countries regarded with suspicion.

Burma's government says the constitution implements democratic reforms, but critics argue it tightens the military's grip on power.

The constitution guarantees 25 percent of parliamentary seats will be held by the military.  It also allows the military to take over the government during a state of emergency, and it bans detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi from public office because she was married to a foreigner.

A military government has ruled Burma since 1962.  The opposition party won the last general elections in 1990.  But military leaders never recognized the results of that race and instead have kept Aung San Suu Kyi under house arrest for 13 of the past 19 years.

Some information for this report was provided by AFP.