May 10, 2008 / 9:08 AM / 11 years ago

Myanmar nationals protest against charter vote

KUALA LUMPUR (Reuters) - Hundreds of protesters in Japan, Malaysia and Thailand denounced Myanmar’s military junta for staging a constitutional referendum on Saturday, just a week after Cyclone Nargis devastated the country.

Some 500 people, mostly wearing red T-shirts emblazoned with the word “No”, gathered outside the Myanmar embassy in Kuala Lumpur, many silently murmuring prayers.

“The military has been pointing the gun at our people for too long, they cannot take pity with this cyclone,” said Than Tun Aung, a refugee who led the protest. “People are dying and they still want to go on with this artificial democracy.”

Some vented their anger by holding up signs saying “Junta, get out” and “Cyclone Nargis and junta are killers”.

Hundreds of protesters also took the streets of Tokyo, shouting anti-government slogans and carrying banners which read “SOS Burma” and “Burma no need killer Than Shwe”, referring to the junta supremo.

In Bangkok, around 50 protesters gathered outside the Myanmar Embassy wearing headbands displaying the word “No” and holding up mock ballot papers marked in opposition to the junta’s proposed constitution.

Even before Cyclone Nargis, groups opposed to military rule and foreign governments, led by the United States, had denounced the constitution and vote as an attempt by the military to legitimize its 46-year grip on power.

State-run TV has repeatedly told citizens it was their “patriotic duty” to approve the new constitution that enshrines a dominant role for the military, which has ruled the country of 53 million since a 1962 coup.

More than a week after Cyclone Nargis swept up the Irrawaddy Delta, packing 190 kph (120 mph) winds that whipped up a wall of sea-water pulverizing everything it its path, aid was barely dribbling to 1.5 million increasingly desperate survivors.

Many of the protesters in Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur were refugees from Myanmar.

“I lost my country when I came to Malaysia, now I have also lost my sister and two brothers. I don’t know where they are,” said a food stall helper, who wanted to be known as Richard, in Kuala Lumpur.

“All I can do is wait outside the embassy and let them know how I feel.”

In Tokyo, protesters outside the Myanmar embassy demanded the military ruler postpone the referendum.

“They are thinking for themselves, not for the people,” Maung Min Nyo, director of the Burma Office Japan, told Reuters.

“We ... are very angry and demand the military junta assist the people as quickly as they can and they have to postpone their referendum.”

Additional reporting Olivier Fabre in Tokyo and Reuters TV in Bangkok; Writing by Jeremy Laurence; Editing by Alex Richardson

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