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Crackdown Continues in Burma, Diplomatic Debate Rages Abroad


The Burmese military government's grip on the political situation is growing steadily tighter. The streets of Rangoon were reported quiet Sunday, while the government announced scores more arrests in its crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations. The government's stranglehold on communications with the outside world is also continuing, as Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

The Burmese military government said Sunday that 78 more people were taken for questioning in connection with mass protests over the last two weeks.

The number of police was meanwhile reported to have decreased, and barricades were taken down, near Rangoon's Shwedagon and the Sule Pagoda - two religious sites where protests had been staged and police fired on demonstrators.

The Internet played a key role in getting information and images to the outside world during the early days of the protests and the crackdown, but the government soon clamped down on Internet access.

An Internet café owner in Rangoon who declined to allow his name to be used told VOA the Internet is only available during the middle of the night, when there is a curfew in effect and it is illegal to be on line.

He says the city has been without Internet for nine or 10 days, though sometimes there is a very slow connection from 10 at night until four in the morning. He says he expects the Internet blackout to be lifted Monday, but nothing is certain.

The government meanwhile says more than 12 hundred people detained for their part in the protests in Rangoon have been released, about half of them Buddhist monks, after they pledged not to demonstrate again.

The military says 135 monks remain in custody, but diplomats and dissident groups say the number of detainees is probably closer to six thousand.

Outside the country, protests and an ongoing diplomatic debate at the United Nations over the Burmese government's actions are continuing.

On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators gathered in London, with smaller protests in cities around the world including Sydney, Stockholm, Paris, Washington D.C., and Bangkok.

A second day of protests here in Bangkok drew about 300 people to the Burmese embassy Sunday. Thailand is home to hundreds of thousands of Burmese exiles and migrant workers.

Britain, France and the United States have circulated a draft resolution at the U.N. Security Council calling on Burma's government to free political prisoners and open talks with dissident leaders.

The document would not be legally binding, but the Burmese government may take notice if the statement were approved by China, which is one of Burma's main trading partners and arms suppliers.

Up to now, China, along with Russia, has been opposed to any action against Burma by the U.N. Security Council.

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