Tanks rumble through Myanmar’s capital

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IOL pic mar27 myanmar parade1 Reuters Soldiers march during a parade to mark the 69th anniversary of Armed Forces Day in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, on March 27, 2014. Picture: Soe Zeya Tun

Naypyidaw, Myanmar - Tanks and missile carriers rumbled through Myanmar's showpiece capital on Thursday as fighter jets soared overhead at an annual parade attended by top generals and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The show of military strength came as the opposition campaigns to remove unelected soldiers from the country's fledgling parliament, three years after the end of junta rule.

Suu Kyi attended the Armed Forces Day parade for a second straight year along with army chief Min Aung Hlaing, as rifle-toting soldiers marched through the purpose-built capital Naypyidaw.

The Nobel Peace Prize winner's debut at the event last year caused surprise given her long imprisonment by the generals who ran the country for decades with an iron fist.

But since her release in 2010, Suu Kyi has established a working relationship with a reformist government headed by President Thein Sein, a former general.

Suu Kyi's father, the country's late independence hero Aung San, created the army and led the struggle against British colonial rule.

IOL pic mar27 myanmar parade2 Soldiers march during a parade to mark the 69th anniversary of Armed Forces Day in Myanmar's capital, Naypyitaw, on March 27, 2014. The parade commemorates the day, March 27, 1945, when independence hero General Aung San gave the command to the units of the independence army to launch a nation-wide resistance against the Japanese occupation. Picture: Soe Zeya Tun Reuters

Last year Suu Kyi admitted she remained “fond” of the military, despite a litany of allegations that it has committed rights abuses in Myanmar's ethnic conflicts.

A controversial 2008 constitution crafted by the former junta - now under review by Parliament - reserves 25 percent of parliamentary seats for armed forces personnel.

Suu Kyi has spearheaded calls for the charter to be overhauled.

On Wednesday Thein Sein reaffirmed his support for a “strong” military but said its role should be reduced slowly in the transition to democracy.

Suu Kyi has expressed a readiness to take on the presidency if her National League for Democracy (NLD) party wins key parliamentary elections due in 2015.

But that would require an amendment to the constitution, which can only be undertaken with the support of more than 75 percent of the legislature.

The 2015 elections are seen as a definitive test of whether the military and its allies are willing to loosen their grip on power.

Rights groups have voiced concerns that the country's reform drive could be stalling.

Legislation under consideration by parliament that could ban marriages between Buddhist women and men of minority faiths has triggered particular concern.

In a rare nod to Myanmar's religious divides, Min Aung Hlaing blamed the country's intermarriage “problems” on the British colonial era, which came to an end in 1948.

In an Armed Forces Day speech, he also indicated that there were procedures to allow the country's charter to be amended, but stressed that a major role of the army was to “safeguard the constitution”.

The country has been shaken by religious unrest in recent years with at least 250 people killed in Buddhist-Muslim clashes since 2012.

Security forces in the restive western state of Rakhine fired warning shots late Wednesday to disperse a rock-throwing mob that targeted the offices of an international aid group after an argument over a Buddhist flag, authorities said. - AFP


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