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Burma Closes Universities and Opposition Offices

Universities and colleges in Burma have been closed after military authorities detained pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi and many of her supporters. Most of the offices of her political party have also been closed.

The closure of the universities was announced Sunday night but many students, unaware of the development, went to school, only to be turned away by security officials. The universities in the past have been a source of protests against Burma's military government.

News agencies in Rangoon report the city was quiet as people reflected on the crackdown on Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy, and the implications for the country's much-delayed transition to democracy.

The government sealed the party's headquarters on Saturday, after placing the Nobel Peace Prize winner and 19 party members in "protective custody." The detentions come near the end of Aung San Suu Kyi's month-long visit to northern Burma. Several party leaders in the capital were also placed under house arrest.

Government officials said four people were killed and at least 50 wounded in a clash between NLD supporters and what were termed their opponents in a town seven hundred kilometers north of the Burmese capital.

The party leaders were brought back to Rangoon Sunday evening. Aung San Suu Kyi reportedly was placed in a government guesthouse and the others were taken to prison.

Government officials accused the NLD of traffic violations, disturbing the peace and engaging in political campaigning.

The editor of the Burmese dissident magazine Iriwaddy, Aung Zaw, said many people doubt the government's version of events. "The traffic regulations, these safety things are only a pretext in order to prevent her to engage in political activities. And there's a much larger issue, which is about political conflicts in Burma. I don't think they want to talk to her or open a meaningful political dialogue with her," he said.

The Burmese government and the NLD have been engaged in reconciliation talks mediated by U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail. However, these talks have been stalled since last year. Mr. Razali is to visit Rangoon Friday to try to revive the talks.

Editor Aung Zaw doubts the Malaysian diplomat will be able to achieve much now. "There has been regression instead of improvement in terms of political dialogue. The government has clearly demonstrated they don't have the political will to make a step forward," he said.

U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan has expressed concern over the developments of the past few days, saying they demonstrate the urgent need for national reconciliation. The governments of Britain, the United States, Australia and Japan have called for the speedy release of the detainees and a return to dialogue.

On Monday, Thailand's prime minister said the whole world is concerned about the situation and he hopes the Burmese government will return the situation back to normal as soon as possible.