- The Washington Times - Wednesday, September 26, 2007

RANGOON, Burma (AP) — The military government banned assemblies of more than five people and imposed curfews in Burma’s two largest cities yesterday, after thousands of Buddhist monks and sympathizers defied orders to stay out of politics and protested once again.

On the day that President Bush announced new U.S. sanctions against the junta, truckloads of soldiers converged on Rangoon after the monks, cheered on by supporters, marched out for an eighth day of peaceful protest from the city’s soaring Shwedagon Pagoda, while about 700 others staged a similar show of defiance in the country’s second-largest city of Mandalay.

“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, speaking on the condition of anonymity fearing reprisals from officials. “People do not tolerate the military government any longer.”

Mr. Bush accused the military dictatorship of Burma, officially known as Myanmar, of imposing “a 19-year reign of fear” that denies basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.

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

The 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew and the meeting ban were announced late yesterday through loudspeakers mounted on vehicles cruising through the streets of Rangoon and Mandalay, witnesses said. The announcement said the measures will be in effect for 60 days.

The measures, after a week of relative inaction by the government, present a challenge to their opponents. Should the protesters defy the new regulation, the junta will have no choice but to use force or back down.

Using force, especially against monks, who are revered in predominantly Buddhist Burma, might intimidate some people but could also stir anger against the regime at home and abroad.

The junta sent 10 truckloads of troops yesterday evening to Rangoon’s Sule Pagoda, a focal point of the protests. Troops were discreetly stationed in the city for the past few days, diplomats said.

According to an ethnic guerrilla commander, among the army divisions dispatched is the 22nd, which joined the suppression of the 1988 uprising when the military fired on peaceful crowds and killed thousands, terrorizing the country.

The demonstrations in Rangoon reached 100,000 Monday, becoming the biggest since a pro-democracy uprising 19 years ago. Authorities did not stop them, even as they built to a scale and fervor that rivaled 1988.

Joining the monks yesterday were members of detained Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi’s opposition National League for Democracy party, as well as university students.

The current protests began 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 rule that has gripped the country since 1962, when a coup ended civilian rule.

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