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US Condemns Burma's 'Heavy-Handed' Crackdown on Dissent


The U.S. State Department Thursday condemned what it described as heavy-handed repression of Burmese dissidents by that country's military rulers. Officials indicate the Bush administration may revive an effort to condemn Burma in the U.N. Security Council. VOA's David Gollust reports from the State Department.

The State Department says the Burmese government is apparently using protests over fuel price increases as a pretext to move against the country's beleaguered dissident movement, and it is again calling on the Rangoon government to release those arrested in recent days.

Burmese activists say more than 100 people, including some leading dissidents, have been arrested since rarely seen public demonstrations began August 19 to protest sharp increases in fuel prices imposed by the government.

The military government's tactics, reportedly including the use of civilian gangs to attack protesters, were condemned by the United States last week.

U.S. concerns were reiterated Thursday by State Department Deputy Spokesman Tom Casey. He called the latest developments extremely unfortunate, and said Rangoon authorities should free the latest detainees as well as longtime political prisoners including democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

"It's important that Burma have a political process, have political change occur. And the only way to do that is for the regime to release those it is holding, and to engage in a real process to develop a new constitution that involves all the various players there," said Casey.

Because it excludes Aung San Suu Kyi's political party and others, the United States has dismissed the national convention organized by the Burmese junta which is reportedly near completion of a new constitution that would provide for elections.

Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy swept national elections held in 1990. But it was barred from taking power and the Nobel Peace Prize-winning party leader has been under detention most of the time since then.

This week, a bipartisan group of U.S. congressional leaders urged Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice in a letter to convene an emergency U.N. Security Council meeting on Burma.

Spokesman Casey said Rice will respond appropriately to the letter and that the legislators should know the Bush administration is very concerned about the issue.

Last January, a U.S.-drafted Security Council resolution calling on Burma to release all political prisoners was vetoed by Russia and China.

Casey said the United States is sure to raise the subject of Burma in New York next month when world leaders convene for the new U.N. General Assembly session.

He said the Bush administration can be expected to look for an opportunity to put the issue before the Security Council again in the coming months.

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