May 4, 2008

Burma Battles Cyclone; Upcoming Elections Feared Postponed

I was just about to post news about a new human rights video campaign below when this news came in:
Cyclone Nargis Devistates Burma
More than 350 people have died after a powerful cyclone struck Burma and destroyed thousands of homes.
Burmese state television said five regions had been declared disaster zones, following the 120mph storm.
It said at least 351 people were killed by Tropical Cyclone Nargis, including 162 who lived on Haing Gyi island off the country’s southwest coast. Many of the others died in the low-lying Irrawaddy delta.
Seventy-five percent of the buildings in the Irrawaddy’s Labutta township had collapsed, it said.
[...] Some citizens in Rangoon complained the 400,000-strong military was doing little to help storm victims and were largely invisible.
“Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?” said one man. “They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity.”
Chris Kaye, the United Nation’s acting humanitarian co-ordinator in Rangoon, said: “The Irrawaddy delta was hit extremely hard, not only because of the wind and rain but because of the storm surge.”
And this from the Huffington Post:
Cyclone kills hundreds in Myanmar; junta response a concern
May 4, 2008 10:43 PM EST
YANGON, Myanmar — A powerful cyclone killed more than 350 people and destroyed thousands of homes, state-run media said Sunday. Some dissident groups worried that the military junta running Myanmar would be reluctant to ask for international help.
Tropical Cyclone Nargis hit at a delicate time for the junta, less than a week ahead of a crucial referendum on a new constitution. Should the junta be seen as failing disaster victims, voters who already blame the regime for ruining the economy and squashing democracy could take out their frustrations at the ballot box.
Some in Yangon complained the 400,000-strong military was doing little to help victims after Saturday's storm.
"Where are all those uniformed people who are always ready to beat civilians?" said a trishaw driver who refused to be identified for fear of retribution. "They should come out in full force and help clean up the areas and restore electricity."
The Forum for Democracy in Burma and other dissident groups outside of Myanmar urged the military junta Sunday to allow aid groups to operate freely in the wake of the cyclone _ something it has been reluctant to do in the past.
It would be difficult for other countries to help unless they received a request from Myanmar's military rulers.
"International expertise in dealing with natural disasters is urgently required. The military regime is ill-prepared to deal with the aftermath of the cyclone," said Naing Aung, secretary general of the Thailand-based forum.
The storm's 120 mph winds blew the roofs off hospitals and cut electricity to the country's largest city.
Shari Villarosa, the top American diplomat in Yangon, said the storm's whipping winds and torrential downpour had caused "major devastation throughout the city."
"The Burmese are saying they have never seen anything like this, ever," Villarosa told The Associated Press. "Trees are down. Electricity lines are down. Our Burmese staff have lost their roofs."
[...] The cyclone came only days before a May 10 referendum on the country's military-backed draft constitution. Authorities have not yet said whether they would postpone the vote.
A military-managed national convention was held intermittently for 14 years to lay down guidelines for the country's new constitution.
The new constitution is supposed to be followed in 2010 by a general election. Both votes are elements of a "roadmap to democracy" drawn up by the junta.
Critics say the draft constitution is designed to cement military power and have urged citizens to vote no.
With such terrible hardships for the Burmese, it's all the more reason to pitch in and
help them even by just talking about them to keep their struggle alive, and one person tells another, who tells another…you never know what can be generated.
Anyway, the video campaign shows celebrities doing their part to help bring human rights to Burma. Some participants are Will Ferrell, Jennifer Aniston & Woody Harrelson, Jason Biggs & Julie Benz, and Eddie Issard. Here is celebrity #4, the incredibly unique Sarah Silverman, doing her best to test the limits of social behavior:

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