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Myanmar tries to get out the vote as aid deliveries languish

  • Story Highlights
  • New York Times: Resources for cyclone victims may be diverted to elections
  • Many see the referendum as favoring military junta that has ruled since 1962
  • Myanmar state TV broadcast messages urging people to vote "yes" in referendum
  • Photos of delta shoreline so gruesome, aid director keeps them from relief workers
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YANGON, Myanmar (CNN) -- As aid groups struggled to distribute supplies to cyclone victims despite government obstacles, Myanmar TV was broadcasting messages urging people to vote "yes" in a referendum that critics say would strengthen the military rule.


Activists demonstrate over the Myanmar referendum at the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok on Friday.

The marketing campaign showed pictures of people voting as a song played with the lyrics, "Let's go to cast a vote with sincere thoughts for happy days." Similar notes were posted on ballot boxes.

The New York Times said it appeared that some resources for cyclone victims was diverted to the vote campaign. In some cases, generals' names were scribbled onto boxes of foreign aid before being distributed, according to the Associated Press.

A resident of Yangon said refugees seeking shelter in schools were evicted so the buildings could be used as polling places, the newspaper reported.

The United Nations estimates that the death toll from last weekend's storm ranges from 63,000 to 100,000, well above the Myanmar government's estimate of about 22,000. Tens of thousands of people are missing.

Most of the victims were in the Irrawaddy Delta, especially along the coastline of the Andaman River, where bodies floated in the water close to shore.

Joe Lowry of the International Red Cross said survivors were sleeping near fetid pools of water, breeding grounds for mosquitoes. Some have managed to build shelters of bamboo and palm leaves, he said.

"People are in great need of shelter materials, clean water," according to Lowry. He said photographs taken of delta shoreline areas were so gruesome, he sees them when he closes his eyes, and he refused to share them with other relief workers.

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Three Red Cross planes carrying 14 tons of shelter materials landed at the Yangon International Airport on Saturday. Lowry said two more flights loaded with tarpaulins, tools, mosquito nets and jerry cans for hauling water were expected Saturday night. Another five should land by Monday.

The Red Cross, which has had staff members in the country since 1993, quickly emptied its warehouses after the cyclone hit. Teams loaded the items onto trucks for distribution, Lowry said, adding that thousands of volunteers have helped.

He said the director of the Red Cross delegation planned to tour the delta region, with the permission of the Myanmar Ministry of Health.

Two flights from the World Food Programme, which temporarily halted flights Friday after the government refused to let their workers pass out the supplies, arrived Saturday, one from Dubai and the other from Cambodia, said WFP-Asia spokesman Paul Risley. On board were a portable warehouse and other shelters.

Additional flights by the WFP and other U.N. agencies in various countries were expected, said WFP's chief spokeswoman in North America, Bettina Luescher.

The French Foreign Affairs Ministry said one of its naval ships was waiting off the coast of India, waiting for Myanmar government authorization to enter territorial waters.

The ship, the Mistral, would not arrive in Myanmar until midweek, however. It is transporting 1,500 tons of medical equipment, food and water.

The ship had been involved in military exercises with Britain and India when military leaders decided to divert it to help the relief effort.

Bernard Kouchner, the French foreign affairs minister, said the aid will go directly to the victims.

"We won't give aid to Burma's junta, even if they would accept it. We will use our own channels in the country."


The United States says it has permission to land a plane in Myanmar on Monday, and a senior military official said if that works out, the U.S. hopes to send in two more planes Tuesday.

CNN's Dan Rivers, who toured the southern coast of the delta in a torrential rain, said the area also suffers from a fuel shortage. Rivers said he was being hunted by the government since he appeared on TV, because of his reporting, and was moving to a different hotel room every night.

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