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No surprises in Myanmar election

No surprises in Myanmar election

Myanmar's military will keep its grip on power after the country's first election in 20 years, backed by parties that on Monday looked set to win a vote marred by fraud and condemned by the United States, Europe and Japan.

Complex rules for Sunday's election thwarted any chance of a pro-democracy upset as Myanmar ends half a century of direct army rule. State TV said voters "freely and happily" cast ballots, but witness accounts suggested a low turn-out and irregularities.

Illustrating the strains multi-ethnic Myanmar has faced for decades, a clash erupted between ethnic minority Karen rebels and government soldiers in the border town of Myawaddy, causing about 12,000 people to flee into Thailand, Thai officials said.

By afternoon, plumes of black smoke rose above the town, a witness said. At least 10 people were wounded in the fighting, which involved rockets or mortars.
Ethnic groups fear the election will strengthen Myanmar's constitution and destroy any chance of achieving a degree of autonomy, stoking concern the fighting could spread to other armed ethnic groups such as the Kachin and the Wa along the border with China.

Official election results trickled out over state media, showing the military and its proxy parties ahead, but a clear picture of who won control of parliament could take a day or longer in the reclusive country where timely information is rare.

Many who abstained from the vote expressed doubt they could alter the authoritarian status quo in a poll that both US President Barack Obama and British Foreign Secretary William Hague dismissed in separate statements as neither free nor fair.

FOCUS ON SUU KYI

With the results largely preordained, focus turned to whether Nobel Peace Prize-winner Aung San Suu Kyi, who has spent 15 of the past 21 years in detention, will be freed when her house arrest term expires on Saturday.

The United States, Britain, the European Union and Japan repeated calls to free the 65-year-old pro-democracy leader whose National League for Democracy beat an army-backed party by a landslide in 1990, a result ignored by the military junta.

She urged supporters to boycott Sunday's election while about 2,100 political activists or opposition politicians are behind bars.

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