Bush speaks out for Burma's freedom

President Bush tonight urged the world to help the Burmese people “reclaim their freedom”.

After another day of defiance by tens of thousands of anti-government protestors on the streets of Rangoon, the US president used his wide-ranging speech at the United Nations’ General Assembly in New York to announce new sanctions aimed at the ruling military junta.

His remarks came as demonstrators at the Burmese embassy in London demanded human rights and democracy for their friends and relatives back home.

Prime Minister Gordon Brown also called for “immediate international action” to stave off a threatened military crackdown on protesters in Burma.

In his speech to world leaders, Mr Bush said: “Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military hunter has imposed a 19-year reign of fear.

“Basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship are severely restricted.

“Ethnic minorities are persecuted, forced child labour, human trafficking and rape are common.”

He added that the regime was holding more than 1,000 political prisoners.

“The ruling junta remains unyielding, yet the people’s desire for freedom is unmistakable,” he said

The president announced a series of steps in a bid to “bring peaceful change” to Burma.

Mr Bush said the US would tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers.

He also said the US would “impose and expand the visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights, as well as their family members”.

He went on: “We will continue to support the efforts of humanitarian groups working to alleviate suffering in Burma.

“I urge the United Nations and all nations to use their diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom.”

Earlier a defiant mass march led by Buddhist monks set out from the Shwedagon Pagoda shrine in Rangoon for the eighth consecutive day.

The marchers ignored threats of violent repression by the junta which yesterday warned it would take action if the protests continued.

“The protest is not merely for the well-being of people but also for monks struggling for democracy and for people to have an opportunity to determine their own future,” one monk said.

“People do not tolerate the military government any longer.”

The demonstrations came despite orders to the Buddhist clergy to halt all political activity and return to their monasteries.

The protest crowds in Rangoon reached 100,000 yesterday, becoming the biggest demonstrations since a pro-democracy uprising 19 years ago when the army fired on peaceful crowds and killed thousands, terrorising the country.

The government has been handling the monks carefully, wary of angering ordinary people in the devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.

The monks were joined today by members of the National League for Democracy which is headed by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest in Rangoon.

The march ended with a vow to continue daily demonstrations against the junta.

Later truckloads of soldiers moved into central Rangoon amid reports of a general troop build-up.

Their arrival followed announcements by the junta earlier in the day warning monks not to take part in the demonstrations and the public to stay at home or risk arrest.

Two army divisions were either already in or moving toward Rangoon from outlying areas, including the 22nd, which took part in the suppression of the 1988 uprising, according to diplomats.

The protests have grown in just one week from a marginalised movement to mass protests drawing not only the monks but people from all walks of life.

They have their roots in unrest which began on August 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in what is one of Asia’s poorest countries.

But they are also fuelled by dissatisfaction with the repressive military government that has ruled the country since 1962.

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