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Burma approves Suu Kyi run for Parliament

YANGON, Myanmar - An elections panel Monday affirmed opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's candidacy for Parliament in Burma, also known as Myanmar, in another step toward political openness in a country emerging from nearly a half-century of iron-fisted military rule.

A victory in the April 1 by-elections would be historic. Suu Kyi could have a voice in Parliament for the first time after spending most of the last two decades under house arrest.

The Nobel Peace Prize laureate announced her intention last month to run in the April elections but was waiting for official approval from the Elections Commission, which said it had to scrutinize her eligibility.

A National League for Democracy spokesman confirmed the commission had approved her candidacy. "There is no objection to her nomination and we can say that her candidacy is officially accepted," Nyan Win said.

Government agencies in Burma normally don't announce their actions directly, but the government gazette is expected to disclose the official decision later.

Burma's nominally civilian government took office last March and has surprised even some of the country's toughest critics by releasing hundreds of political prisoners, signing cease-fire deals with ethnic rebels, increasing media freedoms and easing censorship laws.

Burma's government hopes the rapid changes will prompt the lifting of economic sanctions imposed under the junta's rule. Western governments and the United Nations have said they will review the sanctions only after gauging whether the April polls are carried out freely and fairly.

Suu Kyi's party won a sweeping victory in the 1990 general election but the junta refused to honor the results.

Even if the National League for Democracy party wins all 48 seats being contested, it will have minimal power. The 440-seat lower house of Parliament is heavily weighted with military appointees and allies of the former junta.

Suu Kyi will run for a seat representing Kawhmu, a poor district south of Yangon where villagers' livelihoods were devastated by Cyclone Nargis in 2008.