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Burma's crackdown on dissidents draws world attention

US officials call for a UN Security Council meeting following the arrest of activists protesting fuel price hikes.

By / August 31, 2007

For more than two weeks Burma (Myanmar) has seen a series of small, but unprecedented protests. Observers say the continuing unrest, despite government arrests and other pressures to end demonstrations, is a remarkable step for the strongly repressed country. The public discord began when the government doubled the cost of gasoline and diesel. The government's extreme reaction to the small protests has elicited sharp criticism from US officials and caused others to call for United Nations intervention.

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According to the government opposition party, the National League for Democracy, more than 100 protesters were arrested last week after the demonstrations, reports the Voice of America. Meanwhile undercover police officers and pro-military gangs are reported to be patrolling the streets to prevent further protests.

Burmese authorities are distributing the names and photographs of activists wanted by police for their participation in a rare string of anti-government protests.
The military-run government has ordered local officials and the public to be on the look-out for the activists. Many of the protesters have gone into hiding.

In the face of the Burmese government's crackdown, President Bush has spoken out in favor of the protesters' freedom of expression reports the British Broadcasting Corporation. He called on government officials to "stop its intimidation of those Burmese citizens who are promoting democracy and human rights."

"I strongly condemn the ongoing actions of the Burmese regime in arresting, harassing, and assaulting pro-democracy activists for organising or participating in peaceful demonstrations," Mr Bush said.
"These activists were voicing concerns about recent dramatic increases in the price of fuel, and their concerns should be listened to by the regime rather than silenced through force."

US State Department officials also echoed the Mr. Bush's sentiments. Tom Casey, a State Department spokesman said he was "concerned about the safety and well being of any of the political prisoners being held by the Burmese government." Agence France Presse reports that Mr. Casey went on to cite human rights reports that noted the conditions in Burma's prisons that were "not good."

"But again, the main point is these people shouldn't be in jail in the first place," Casey said.
"These are individuals trying to peacefully express their political views, who are being detained by a regime that seems continually intent on keeping people from being able to participate in the political life of their country," he said.