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Myanmar's ruler warns against external interference

  • Myanmar's junta chief spoke Saturday of pending political and economic change
  • Military ruler: Preparations underway for transition to democracy and market economy
  • Junta chief cgave no date for upcoming national elections, the first in two decades

Naypyitaw, Myanmar (CNN) -- Myanmar's junta chief spoke Saturday of pending political and economic change even as an ostentatious parade served as a reminder of the isolated nation's military might.

In his annual Armed Forces Day national speech, Senior Gen. Than Shwe signaled that transition would soon be under way though he gave no date for upcoming national elections, the first such vote in two decades.

"Preparations are being made to be ready in every aspect for a gentle transition to democracy and market oriented economic systems," Than Shwe said. "Failure to make a systemic step-by-step transition from one system to another may endanger the nation and the people."

Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, has been under military rule since 1962. The Armed Forces Day parade -- commemorating the start of the Burmese army's resistance to Japanese occupation in 1945 -- is designed to showcase military power.

Saturday's parade could be the last for the military junta, though critics believe that Myanmar's announced elections are intended only to create a facade of democracy.

Election process faces criticism

The so-called Group of Friends on Myanmar, an informal collection of 14 countries and the European Union, are unhappy with the junta's lack of progress toward establishing a fair and transparent election process.

In his speech, Than Shwe took a jab at nations like the United States, which has said that diplomatic ties between the two nations could improve if Myanmar took tangible steps toward democracy.

"During the transition to an unfamiliar system, countries with greater experience usually interfere and take advantage for their own interest," he said. "For this reason, it is an absolute necessity to avoid relying on external powers."

The upcoming vote will be the first since 1990, when opposition candidate Aung San Suu Kyi won by a landslide. The junta refused to recognize her party's victory.

Suu Kyi, the iconic face for democracy in Myanmar, has been kept under detention for 14 of the past 20 years.

Earlier this month, the junta announced that Suu Kyi would be barred from participating in this year's election. The Political Parties Registration Law, announced in state-run newspapers, excludes electoral participation by any member of a political party who has been convicted in court.

CNN's Kit Swartz contributed to this report