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Global Protests Against Burma off to Slow Start, but Burma Shows Conciliatory Signs


A planned worldwide day of protest against the military government in Burma drew only small crowds in Asia Saturday, with turnouts in Sydney, Melbourne and Bangkok. There was some movement in Burma itself, however, and at the United Nations, which is about to begin debating the Burmese crackdown on pro-democracy protests. Chad Bouchard reports from Bangkok.

About 150 people gathered at Bangkok's Democracy Monument Saturday in support of the pro-democracy movement that was brutally put down last week in Burma. They marched to the campus of Thammasat University, where they listened to speeches, prayed, and sang.

This song is from Burma's 1988 uprising, in which an estimated three thousand people were killed by the military. The song talks about the blood of heroes running in the streets, and the need to keep fighting for change.

Supinya Klandnarond said the protest coincided with an iconic date in the history of Thai democracy. On October 6, 1976, Thai military and police units killed at least 46 protesters here at Thammasat University.

"We would like to commemorate this event in Thailand linked with the struggle of people inside Burma. So we came here to express our concern and show solidarities among Thai people, that we would like to support the Burmese people and we would like to demand the Burmese government to respect human rights and not killing people as they have been doing," said Supinya Klandnarond.

There were small turnouts in Sydney and Melbourne, but a planned protest march in Tokyo was canceled. Protests were scheduled later in the day in Europe and the United States.

The Burmese government meanwhile appeared to be trying to temper international outrage by restoring some Internet access and signaling a willingness to have talks, under certain conditions, with opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

In another notable turn of events, Aung San Suu Kyi's picture appeared on Burmese state television Friday night for the first time in years. She was identified on television - unusually - with her full name and with a polite title, as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi.

The U.N. special envoy to Burma, Ibrahim Gambari, earlier this week met with both Aung San Suu Kyi and the military government's top general, Than Shwe. Back in New York, Gambari told reporters Friday that he saw signs of a possible dialogue between the military and its opposition, with an eye to reconciliation and changes to the country's constitution.

The United States, Britain and France circulated a draft statement at the U.N. condemning Burma's actions. The U.S. says it will push for U.N. sanctions against Burma if the country does not begin moving toward democracy.