Suu Kyi allowed to vote, ballot taken to her home

Rangoon (dpa) - Burmese authorities on Friday allowed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to cast an "advance vote" at her home, where she has been under house arrest for the past five years, in a national referendum designed to consolidate the military's power.

Suu Kyi voted at home at 11 am, security sources said.

Burma staged a national referendum on May 10 to approve a new constitution which essentially cements the military's dominant role in any future elected government. According to the government's own count, some 92.4 per cent of the people voted in favour of the charter, an outcome few independent observers believe.

The vote was postponed until May 24 (Saturday) in 47 townships hard hit by Cyclone Nargis, which swept over the south-central coast on May 2-3, leaving at least 133,000 people dead or missing, and devastating much of the Irrawaddy Delta and Rangoon.

In Rangoon, 40 out of 45 township will participate in the postponed referendum on Saturday, including the township where Suu Kyi's family home is located.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate has been under house arrest since May 30, 2003, after authorities charged her with threatening national security after pro-government thugs attacked her and her followers in Depayin, northern Burma, killing 70 Suu Kyi supporters.

Suu Kyi is kept incommunicado in her family home and has been unable to comment publicly on the cyclone devastation or the junta's response to it.

According to Jared Genser, president of the US-based "Freedom Now for Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma", Suu Kyi will have completed five years under house detention on Saturday, which is the legal detention limit for people deemed a "threat to the sovereignty and security of the State and the peace of the people."

Genser, a US lawyer, has pointed out that under Burma's Article 10 of the State Protection Law 1975, Suu Kyi must be freed by Sunday as her five-year detention period, extended on an annual basis, ends Saturday.

"Her fifth term of house arrest was last extended by the junta on May 25, 2007, for a period of one year. As a result, her house arrest expires at the end of May 24, 2008," said Genser in a statement.

Security sources in Rangoon, however, said the decision on whether Suu Kyi's detention period would be extended would be made on May 27, not May 24.

It is deemed highly unlikely that they will free Suu Kyi at such a sensitive time for the regime.

The government has come under harsh international criticism for impeding an international disaster relief effort for the victims of Cyclone Nargis, and for going ahead with the self-serving referendum despite the catastrophe.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-moon, who arrived in Burma Thursday to assess the devastation, has estimated that three weeks after the storm aid has reached only 25 per cent of the estimated 2.5 million people affected by the disaster, a poor performance blamed primarily on the junta.

Bangkok Post