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US First Lady Appeals to Burmese Troops: 'Don't Fire on Your People'

U.S. first lady Laura Bush is urging the Burmese military government to show restraint and refrain from further violence against pro-democracy protesters. In an interview with White House correspondent Paula Wolfson, which was broadcast live to Burma over VOA, Mrs. Bush declared solidarity with the Burmese people, amid reports that Burmese soldiers had opened fire on protesters.

The first lady sat down for the interview as people in Rangoon reported clashes between protesters and police.

Mrs. Bush urged Burma's military government to remember that innocent lives are at stake.

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

The first lady said she is awed by the courage of the Burmese people. She spoke of the Buddhist monks who have been leading the protests, which began after the government doubled fuel prices, and have grown into the largest challenge to the military leaders in 20 years, amid calls for freedom and democracy. Mrs. Bush said she is not surprised that the monks have been at the forefront of the protests.

"Well, I think they are the ones who can take the lead, because they are revered, and because Buddhist monks are known for peace, for wanting peace," she said. "So, I think it is very, very important. Their addition to the protests has made a huge difference, and it is one of the reasons why the world has paid a lot of attention."

She said she was moved by a tiny picture she saw of Aung San Suu Kyi - the Burmese pro-democracy leader and Nobel Peace prize laureate - who came to the gate of her home, where she is under house arrest to greet monks who were allowed to pass by there earlier this week. Mrs. Bush spoke of Aung San Suu Kyi's long years under house arrest, noting her husband died in Britain, while she was confined to her home in Rangoon.

"All of that really shows the sacrifice that she is making for the people of Burma and the hopes that she has and the dreams that she has, to have free and democratic Burma that can join the rest of the world, and can flourish with all the resources Burma has," Mrs. Bush said.

She said Aung San Suu Kyi shows the power of women to make a difference in the world. She said that, as countries emerge from oppression, women can help lead the way. She said she saw it first when she traveled to Afghanistan following the ouster of the Taleban in 2001.

"All of the things we saw in Afghanistan made me then move on to look at other countries around the world, and, particularly, at the way women are treated in some of these countries," she said. "And, these countries can't succeed, unless everyone - both men and women - has a chance to contribute to their society."

She said, in Afghanistan and in Burma, despite enormous problems, there is hope. She said she sees it in the faces of the Burmese who are taking to the streets to push their demand for freedom.

"There is hope - absolutely, there is hope for Burma," Mrs. Bush said. "And, I think that is one of the feelings we all get as we look at these images - this very cautious hope that, this time, the people have turned a page."

Mrs. Bush said the Burmese have told the world they can no longer tolerate oppression, and the nation must move on.