Suu Kyi concern over Myanmar ruling party putsch

NAYPYIDAW, Myanmar - Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi raised fears for crucial November elections Tuesday as Myanmar sought to calm political tensions following the surprise ouster of the head of the ruling party.

The dramatic removal of Shwe Mann as head of the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) last week was seen as a decisive swoop by the president and his military allies to tighten their political hold ahead of the polls.

Speaking as MPs gathered in the capital Naypyidaw for a final round of parliament meetings before the November 8 vote, Suu Kyi said the ruling party putsch had stoked concerns for the elections, which are seen as a key test of democratic reforms.

"People are worried. We all have a responsibility for that," she told a scrum of reporters, without elaborating.

The opposition leader's cordial political relationship with Shwe Mann, who retains his influential role as parliament speaker, had lead to speculation that the pair were planning an alliance that would have challenged the political might of the still-powerful military.

Shwe Mann had been widely tipped as a potential compromise presidential candidate for Suu Kyi, who is excluded from the role by the junta-drafted constitution.

Both the United States and Britain have raised fears about the method of his removal by President Thein Sein, which saw security personnel enter the USDP headquarters late Wednesday.

The government sought to downplay those fears, calling the ouster "part of a normal course of business" for a political party, in a statement published in the state-backed New Light of Myanmar Tuesday.

It reaffirmed its commitment to the vote, which many hope will be the freest in modern history for a nation that withered under military rule for nearly half a century.

"The government shall unconditionally accept the results of the elections," it added.

Shwe Mann's removal came just before Friday's deadline for candidates to register to stand in the polls, allowing Thein Sein to insert political and military allies into the top echelons of the USDP.

Both men are former junta generals who shed their uniforms to contest controversial elections in 2010, held without the main opposition or Suu Kyi, who was under house arrest.

Thein Sein's quasi-civilian government has been rewarded for political and economic reforms by the removal of most Western sanctions.

But campaigners have raised mounting fears that those changes are reversing, with dozens of activists and journalists locked up in recent months.