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Laura Bush Urges Burma's Junta to Open Democratic Path

First Lady Laura Bush is urging Burma's military junta to forge a path to democracy or step aside. VOA's Michael Bowman reports from the White House, where Mrs. Bush spoke out on International Human Rights Day.

The normally soft-spoken first lady repeatedly blasted Burma's rulers as brazen despots. Mrs. Bush said the Burmese people have been denied "nearly every right" contained in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. She accused Burma's junta of crushing political dissent and generating "widespread misery and poverty."

In a teleconference call with the U.S. ambassador to Thailand as well as a medic who works on the Thai-Burmese border, Mrs. Bush said the international community must do more to bring about change in Burma.

"President Bush and I call on all nations, especially Burma's neighbors, to use their influence to help bring about a democratic transition [in Burma]," she said.

The first lady spoke after U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon stated that the international community is losing patience with Burma's government and its slow steps toward democracy. He said a U.N. special envoy will continue efforts to bring Burma's generals and detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi to the negotiating table.

Laura Bush called for the opposition leader's release as a first step to a better future for the country - one in which the Burmese people pick their own leaders.

"Members of the junta have promised to engage in a serious dialogue with democratic representatives of the Burmese people," she said. "If Than Shwe and the generals cannot meet these very basic requirements, then it is time for them to move aside and make a clear path for a free and democratic Burma."

Mrs. Bush was especially critical of the Burmese government's violent reaction to recent protests led by Buddhist monks, saying the world watched the events "with horror". The United Nations estimates more than 30 people were killed and about 4,000 were arrested during the crackdown.