Aung San Suu Kyi misses Myanmar army parade on health grounds

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar (AFP) - Myanmar's opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi Friday snubbed a grand annual parade showcasing military strength for the first time in three years, as the country's army chief warned against "any disturbances to stability" in the upcoming elections.

The veteran democracy campaigner, who has suffered a bout of minor ill health in recent days, was conspicuously absent from the Armed Forces Day ceremony. She has attended for the last two years since she entered a fledgling Parliament set up under the quasi-civilian government that replaced junta rule.

"She needs to take as rest at this moment. That's why she couldn't attend the ceremony this morning in Naypyidaw," a source close to Ms Suu Kyi from her National League for Democracy (NLD) party told AFP, adding that she was "fine".

The 69-year-old, who was taken ill on a number of occasions during her gruelling 2012 by-election campaign, has recently ramped up her activities as the country prepares for crucial polls expected in early November.

Suu Kyi's party is expected to sweep the elections, seen as a test of democratic reforms, if they are free and fair.

But the Nobel laureate is currently barred from becoming president because of a provision in the junta-era Constitution, which the military has resisted altering.

The election build up has coincided with rising fears that much lauded reforms in Myanmar are stalling, with recent police protest crackdowns fuelling concerns over the democratic transition.

Friday's parade in Naypyidaw was one of the biggest displays of military might in recent years.

Thousands of troops marched through an enormous parade ground backed by tanks, mounted missiles, fighter jets and airborne soldiers abseiling from helicopters on ropes.

Army senior general Min Aung Hlaing said in an address that this year's vote "represents an important landmark of democracy implementation".

But he added: "I want to say that any disturbances to stability of the state... won't be allowed in the general election," according to an official translation of his speech.

In the same speech, Gen Min Aung Hlaing cautioned against "too rapid" reforms, warning that they could cause "instabilities".

He also reaffirmed the army's support for the transition away from military rule, which shocked observers when it began in 2011 and has led to the lifting of most Western sanctions.

Nonetheless, Myanmar's military remains deeply involved in politics four years after the end of outright junta rule and holds a quarter of parliamentary seats.

It is currently battling rebels in the Kokang region of northern Shan state in fighting that has riled neighbouring China, which mobilised fighter jets after a bomb apparently from a Myanmar warplane landed in Chinese territory earlier this month.

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