Tuesday, September 25, 2007

President Bush today will announce additional sanctions against the military dictatorship in Burma to support the push for democracy in that Asian country, the White House said yesterday.

VIDEO: 100,000 Monks, Protesters Swarm Streets

Mr. Bush, in a U.N. General Assembly speech, will announce financial sanctions against key members of the regime and those who provide them financial aid, said Stephen J. Hadley, the president’s national security adviser.

The U.S. action comes amid a growing series of anti-government demonstrations in Burma, also known as Myanmar. As many as 100,000 protesters led by a phalanx of barefoot monks marched yesterday in the most powerful show of strength yet.

“It’s very interesting what is happening in the country with the Buddhist monks who have joined this effort,” Mr. Hadley said. “Our hope is to marry that internal pressure with the external pressure coming from the United States and the United Nations and really all countries that are committed to freedom to try to force the regime into a change.”

Mr. Hadley would not be specific about the financial sanctions in order to maintain what he called an element of surprise against those who might try to hide their assets. But he said the measures would target key members of the regime and those who provide financial support to them.

He also said there would be a visa ban against those associated with the regime, including their families.

“He will call for the United Nations and for other countries there to do all they can to support a process of political change in Burma,” Mr. Hadley said.

The U.S. restricts imports and exports and financial transactions with Burma. Washington also has imposed an arms embargo on Burma.

Even without the American action, the military junta in Burma faces mounting pressure to either crack down on or compromise with the reinvigorated democracy movement. The monks have taken their traditional role as the conscience of society, backing the military into a corner from which it may lash out again.

The authorities did not stop the protests yesterday, even as they built to a scale and fervor that rivaled the demonstrations that were bloodily suppressed by the army with mass shootings 19 years ago. The government has been handling the monks gingerly, wary of raising the ire of ordinary citizens in this devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.

However, the country’s religious affairs minister appeared on state television last night to accuse the monks of being manipulated by the regime’s domestic and foreign enemies. Meeting with senior monks at Rangoon’s Kaba Aye Pagoda, Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung said the protesting monks represented just 2 percent of the country’s total. He suggested that if senior monks did not restrain them, the government would act according to its own regulations, which he didn’t detail.

The protests began on Aug. 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in one of Asia’s poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military government.

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