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Burmese democrats fall out over bamboo hat symbol

The party of the detained Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi is in dispute with a breakaway faction over the use of a bamboo hat symbol in an election due this year.

Ms Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) won a landslide election victory in 1990, with the bamboo hat as its symbol, although it was denied power by the military. Ms Suu Kyi and her supporters took to wearing the farmers' hat and it became a symbol of defiance to the ruling generals.

The military has promised to hold another election this year, although the NLD is boycotting it in protest against what it says are unjust election laws. But a faction has broken away from the NLD, which was officially dissolved after its refusal to register for the vote, and is running in the polls with the bamboo hat as its symbol. "We are preparing to make a complaint about their use of the bamboo hat," Nyan Win, a senior NLD member, said yesterday. "Their bamboo hat is just an imitation of ours." He added that the complaint would be filed with the Election Commission on Monday.

The election, a date for which has not yet been set, has been widely dismissed as a sham to create a facade of democracy in a country ruled by the military for almost five decades. But Khin Maung Swe, a founding member of the breakaway faction, the National Democratic Force, dismissed his former colleagues' complaints.

"This symbol does not belong to the NLD. The NLD has not applied for a patent," he said. Besides, he added, the design of his party's hat symbol was different from NLD's, pointing out two overlapping stars above the hat on his party's version.