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US First Lady Criticizes Burma's Leaders on Independence Day


U.S. First Lady Laura Bush has issued strong criticism of Burma's military leadership, on the country's 60th anniversary of independence from British colonial rule.

In a statement Friday, Mrs. Bush said "instead of celebrating their freedom, the Burmese people live in fear, poverty and oppression under General Than Shwe and his military regime."

Britain's foreign secretary, David Miliband, also issued a statement Friday saying that the Burmese people's aspirations for democracy, stability and prosperity have been frustrated.

A speech by General Than Shwe was read during a flag-raising ceremony in the new capital city of Naypyidaw Friday. In the speech, the general promoted what he called a "discipline-flourishing democratic state" based on a seven-stage road map.

Critics have denounced the road map as a sham because it keeps the military in formal power and bars the National League for Democracy, the opposition party led by democratic icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The Nobel peace laureate has been under house arrest for most of the last two decades.

Riot police were deployed in the main city of Rangoon, where more than 300 people attended a separate ceremony at the NLD's headquarters, including party activists and Western diplomats.

The ceremony was closely monitored by plainclothes police officers.

The National League for Democracy issued a statement Friday, calling for the release of Aung San Suu Kyi and all political prisoners.

The international community has condemned Burma over its bloody crackdown of last September's pro-democracy protests, led by Buddhist monks.

The United Nations says at least 31 people were killed in the crackdown.

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