Controversy over Burmese constitution flares as EU lifts sanctions | Asia| An in-depth look at news from across the continent | DW | 23.04.2012
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Controversy over Burmese constitution flares as EU lifts sanctions

The EU agreed to lift sanctions against the former pariah state Myanmar, as a new controversy over the constitution flared up and opposition leader Suu Kyi refused to take her seat in parliament.

On Monday, Myanmar's parliament convened without the democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi and other elected members of her National League for Democracy (NLD).

The 43 NLD members who won seats in a by-election held on April 1 - the first democratic elections to be held in Myanmar since the civilian government assumed power last year - refuse to swear an oath protecting the constitution that was introduced by the junta in 2008.

Suu Kyi and her colleagues had demanded the words "safeguard the constitution" be replaced with "respect the constitution" but the ruling party refused to do this on Monday.

Over the weekend, the newly-elected MPs had tried on traditional headscarves that must be worn in parliament and debated whether to take their seats or not.

"We do not wish to boycott parliament," party speaker Nyan Win said. "But we refuse to swear an oath on the constitution that was created in 2008."

David Cameron (L) listens to Nobel laureate and newly elected parliamentarian Aung San Suu Kyi at her residence in Yangon

British PM David Cameron was the first top EU politician to visit opposition leader Suu Kyi

One fourth of all seats are allocated to the military in this constitution - an issue that was a major component of Suu Kyi's election campaign.

"It isn't a real problem," said Nyan Win. "We are confident it will be resolved."

"We participated in the by-election because we wanted to get into parliament. So we will try to negotiate a solution and deal with it," he added.

"We have made our demands clear," agreed newly-elected MP Phyu Phyu Thin. “We will assume our seats in parliament after we get what we are demanding."

For Aung San Suu Kyi, the oath of office is a question of credibility and honor. Her refusal to take her seat in parliament can be seen as an effort to test the government's willingness to introduce true reforms.

EU foreign policy chief Catherine Ashton

Catherine Ashton is travelling to Myanmar on the weekend

The matter does not seem to have made an impact on the EU, however, which lifted almost all sanctions on Myanmar on Monday, except the arms ban, in a bid to reward the government for its democratization efforts.

Ahead of her upcoming trip to Myanmar, foreign policy head Catherine Ashton said the EU wanted to support the progress made thus far in the country "so it becomes irreversible."

The EU had frozen the assets of nearly a thousand firms and institutions and banned almost 500 people from entering the EU. The sanctions will now be lifted for a year.

Author: Udo Schmidt, Sarah Berning (dpa, AFP, Reuters)
Editor: Anne Thomas

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