February 10th, 2008 04:42 EST
Burma begins journey toward democracy
Burma's military government says it will hold a referendum on a new constitution in May - followed by elections in 2010.
In a brief announcement on state media Saturday, the government said the time has now come to change from military rule to democratic civilian rule.
The opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) reacted cautiously, saying the announcement seemed erratic and vague. A spokesman (Nyan Win) said it does not make sense to set a date for an election before knowing the results of the referendum.
The announcement does not make clear whether the opposition will be allowed to take part in the election. However, the proposed constitution is believed likely to disqualify opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi because her late husband was a foreigner.
Burma last held elections in 1990, but the military has never recognized the winning opposition NLD party.
The military suspended the country's previous constitution in 1988. Late last year, a national convention said it had adopted guidelines for a new charter.
Britain's foreign office gave a guarded response to the announcement Saturday, saying Burma's transition to democracy requires the participation of all political stakeholders. It also called for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi who has been under detention or house arrest for most of the past two decades.
Human rights groups say a new constitution would secure the military's role in politics.
Burma has been ruled by a military government since 1962. The current leaders are widely criticized for human rights violations and the detention of political activists.
Some information for this report provided by AP, AFP and Reuters.