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Myanmar picks junta insider as president

YANGON (AFP) -- Myanmar named a key retired general as President on Friday, an official said, as the military hierarchy retained its stranglehold on power in the country's new political system.

Thein Sein, who shed his army uniform to contest controversial elections last year, "was elected as the president with a majority vote," a Myanmar official told AFP on condition of anonymity.

The former junta prime minister had been tipped for the post even before the electoral committee vote, supporting fears that the regime has engineered the political process to hide military power behind a civilian facade.

A key ally of junta strongman Than Shwe, the 65-year-old became a civilian to contest the November election as head of the junta-backed Union Solidarity
and Development Party (USDP), which claimed an overwhelming majority in the poll.

One of the president's first jobs will be to appoint a government, and he can be confident of little resistance from a parliament dominated by the military and its cronies.

Sources said he was likely to retain his position as prime minister in addition to his new role. Under complex parliamentary rules, the upper house, lower house and members of the military each nominated one vice president.

A select committee then chose the president from the three candidates, all of them members of the USDP as Myanmar's military, which has ruled the country since 1962, continued its domination.

The two vice presidents are Tin Aung Myint Oo, another retired top general and Than Shwe ally, and an ethnic Shan, Sai Mouk Kham.

Though Than Shwe, who has ruled Myanmar with an iron fist since 1992, has not taken the top political role, many analysts believe he will attempt to retain some sort of control behind the scenes.

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