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Myanmar restricts speech of new parliament members

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YANGON, Myanmar » Freedom of speech for members of parliament in military-controlled Myanmar will be restricted under laws that dictate the functioning of the newly elected government.

The curbs announced Friday in an official gazette also set a two-year prison term for any protest staged within the parliament compound.

They come after elections this month that were swept by the military-backed Union Solidarity and Development Party. Final results have yet to be announced, but a tabulation based on state media reports shows the party garnered nearly 80 percent of the seats in the two-house Union Parliament.

The laws, signed by junta chief Gen. Than Shwe, stipulate that parliamentarians will be allowed freedom of expression unless their speeches endanger national security, the unity of the country or violate the constitution. They also provide a two-year prison term for those who stage protests in the parliament compound or physically assault a lawmaker on its premises.

Also, anyone other than lawmakers who enters the parliament hall when the body is in session faces a one-year prison term and a fine.

The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962 and the Nov. 7 vote was widely criticized as unfairly designed and fraudulently executed.

The Union Election Commission has repeatedly corrected announced results that showed turnout exceeding 100 percent in some constituencies and when two pro-junta candidates were declared winners in constituencies in Kachin State where elections had been canceled.

The results ensure the military retains power behind the scenes as well as overtly in parliament, which will become a powerful body. The president, who will come from the ranks of the victorious party, will appoint Cabinet ministers and can call the military to step in case of a national emergency.

The previously elections in 1990 were overwhelmingly won by the National League for Democracy, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, but the military did not recognize the results.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, was recently released from her latest period of house arrest. She has been in detention for more than 15 of the last 21 years.


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