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New Technology Beams Burma Protests Across Globe

  • Daniel Ryntjes

Demonstrators calling for an end to military rule in Burma say inexpensive digital technology is proving crucial in their efforts to gain international support. The large-scale street protests, led by monks, are now thrust into the spotlight because of video websites such as YouTube. Daniel Ryntjes reports.

The pictures may sometimes be grainy and jerky, but the protests are being seen around the world. It is the biggest mass movement in Burma since 1988, when government forces killed an estimated 3,000 pro-democracy activists.

This time, Internet bloggers are leading an information campaign, posting personal accounts, pictures and videos online.

Tin Maung Thaw from the Committee for Restoration of Democracy in Burma was demonstrating outside his country's embassy in Washington, D.C.

"Back in 1988 what happened, we really don't know," he said. "We don't have any documentary or photographic evidence, but now we have a lot of videos and pictures and photos that came by all those digital ways, and you can see everything on the Internet and on television."

The availability of small inexpensive video cameras and camera-phones mean more images are getting out. Tin Maung Thaw says he hopes it will make the Burmese government less willing to use violence.

"That's another reason why government is trying to - they try not to attack the people because they are afraid of the digital media, because people have those digital media device for every steps," he said. "People's desire. We favor stability. We favor peace. We oppose unrest and violence."

Burma's state television is reporting on the protests and has condemned the foreign media, calling VOA and BBC "sky-full of liars."

"At present, there are concerns announced to the public to be aware of these agitations to take part in the protests, and some foreign broadcasting stations are airing the fabricated news gathered by the persons they hired with wages," says Kay Khaing Swe, a Myanmar TV newsreader.

One student protester from 1988, Aung Din, is now working for an activist group, the U.S. Campaign for Burma, in Washington, D.C. He says the protesters are trying to keep one step ahead of the Burmese government.

"They just upload it to keep their websites so we can share the file and we know their password, and we go to the website to download these video footages," he said.

And it is not a one-way street. Figures as diverse as First Lady Laura Bush and comedy actor Jim Carrey have pledged their support.

"At this time I want to say to the armed guards and to the soldiers: Don't fire on your people. Don't fire on your neighbors. Join this movement," said Mrs. Bush.

"That same military has destroyed over 3,000 villages in eastern Burma and forced 1.5 million people to leave their homes," said Jim Carrey.

Human rights campaigners are now concerned about new tactics by the Burmese government - mass detentions and violence against demonstrators.

But, unlike in 1988, each new piece of information that leaks out will soon have a much wider audience.

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