Key leaders in the U.S. Congress are voicing support for pro-democracy protesters in Burma. VOA's Dan Robinson reports from Capitol Hill, where Democratic House Speaker Nancy Pelosi and the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee vowed legislative steps in response to the crackdown by Burma's military.
Congresswoman Pelosi used a regular news conference to voice strong support for the people of Burma, who she says are standing up to what she calls a corrupt, illegitimate military regime.
Noting that Congress has long stood behind Burma's democracy movement, she referred to the courage of Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who has been under some form of detention for two decades.
Pelosi turned her remarks to actions she says the U.S. and other nations must take in coming weeks:
"The international community cannot stand by while peaceful demonstrators are arrested, beaten and murdered," she said. "Let there be no doubt that we stand with the freedom-seeking people of Burma in their just cause."
Pelosi spoke Friday with President Bush, who has announced a tightening of U.S. sanctions on Burma, including a ban on visas for what are called human rights violators and their relatives.
Existing U.S. sanctions already prohibit visas for Burmese military officials, along with bans on imports from Burma and a freeze on foreign assets of Burmese banks, and an investment ban for U.S. companies and individuals.
Pelosi says she is working with the chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, California Democrat Tom Lantos, on specific legislative steps:
"In Congress we plan to bring legislation to the floor with the strongest possible language to condemn the crackdown on peaceful protesters, and tighten economic sanctions for those responsible for those gross violations of human rights [and we] commend the president for his strong statements on Burma and sanctions on Burma," she added.
In an interview with VOA's Burmese Service, Congressman Lantos followed up on a previous written statement on Burma, in which he warned Burma's military not to repeat what he called its "terrible mistake" of 1988 when it used violence against demonstrators.
Lantos says U.S. efforts should focus on obtaining the cooperation of China, among others, and he had this message for Burma's military rulers:
"I call on those members of [Burma's] military who have the desire to move in the right direction to do so at this moment," he said. "This can be a turning point in Burmese history and some of the Burmese military leaders have shown indication that they don't like this policy, that they want to put an end to this policy."
Any new U.S. legislation is likely to receive overwhelming if not unanimous bipartisan support in the House and Senate, and would likely be placed on a fast track for consideration.
President Bush discussed the situation in Burma during a video conversation with and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown.
White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said they agreed to continue to work cooperatively to keep pressure on Burma's military, and discussed potential new steps by the European Union.
Perino said more will be known after the visit to Rangoon by U.N. envoy Ibrahim Gambari, adding he should be allowed to carry out his full mission:
"We have called on the Burmese to allow him to be able to meet with anyone he wants to meet, military leaders, religious leaders, and Aung San Suu Kyi, and we will have more information as we get it out of that meeting," she said. "In addition to that, yesterday the Treasury Department tightened sanctions on many individuals, and the State Department has just announced additional people who are placed on their travel ban."
Perino was unable to provide additional details of the Burma portion of a meeting Thursday between President Bush and China's foreign minister, other than to note the president was pleased with China's help with U.N. envoy Gambari's visit to Burma.
Along with any new binding legislative measures, the House and Senate are likely to approve a resolution calling for the immediate and unconditional release of Aung San Suu Kyi, and urging China and other countries providing Burma's military with political and economic support to join in efforts to pressure Burma's military.