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Burma opens final talks on constitution

More than 1,000 delegates gathered for Burma's national convention in Nyaung-Hna-Pin yesterday. Critics call the meeting a sham because the junta chose most of the delegates. More than 1,000 delegates gathered for Burma's national convention in Nyaung-Hna-Pin yesterday. Critics call the meeting a sham because the junta chose most of the delegates. (ASSOCIATED PRESS)

NYAUNG-HNA-PIN, Burma -- Burma's military government opened yesterday what it says will be the final session of a national convention aimed at completing a process launched 14 years ago to draw up guidelines for a new constitution.

Critics call the proceedings a sham because the junta hand picked most of the delegates and because pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi -- currently under house arrest -- cannot attend.

The meeting aims to complete the first stage of what the junta has called a seven-step "road map" to democracy that is supposed to culminate in free elections, although no timetable has been set.

In his opening speech, Lieutenant General Thein Sein, the acting prime minister, called the convention the most important part of the road map, and urged delegates not to try to amend points previously agreed to.

He warned that legal action will be taken against anyone who tries to derail the process.

The convention, meeting after a seven-month hiatus, could take about a month and a half to complete, Information Minister Brigadier General Kyaw Hsan said.

More than 1,000 delegates from across the country gathered at the Nyaung-Hna-Pin convention center, about 25 miles north of the commercial capital Rangoon, for the meeting.

Burma, renamed Myanmar by the junta, has been without a constitution since 1988, when the current junta took power and suspended a 1974 charter.

The guidelines set by the national convention are to be used in writing a new constitution, but the junta has not publicly said who will draft the charter.

Suu Kyi's party, the National League for Democracy, has boycotted the convention to protest her continued detention and that of other NLD leaders.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has been in prison or under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 18 years.

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