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Influential US Senator John McCain Blasts Burma's Military Government

A key U.S. lawmaker is calling for tighter U.S. sanctions against Burma after that country's military government detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

Senator John McCain blasted the Burmese government's detention of Aung San Suu Kyi and other opposition leaders following clashes Friday between her supporters and pro-government demonstrators in northern Burma.

"The junta's latest actions are a desperate attempt by a decaying regime to stall freedom's inevitable progress in Burma and across Asia," he said. "They will fail, as surely as Aung San Suu Kyi's campaign for a free Burma will one day succeed."

Senator McCain, an Arizona Republican and chairman of the Senate Commerce Committee, took to the Senate floor to call on the United States to take steps aimed at further isolating the military government in Rangoon.

He called on Congress to consider legislation banning Burmese imports to the United States, and urged European parliaments to do likewise, noting that more than 50 percent of Burmese exports go to U.S. and European markets.

Senator McCain urged the Bush administration to freeze U.S. assets of Burmese leaders. He said the United States also should expand the visa ban against Burmese officials to include all members of the pro-government Union Solidarity Development Association, which human rights advocates say organized last week's attack against Aung San Suu Kyi's delegation.

In addition, Senator McCain called on U.N. special envoy Razali Ismail to drop his plans to visit Burma later this week unless he gets assurances from the Burmese government that he will be able to meet with Aung San Suu Kyi.

"American and international policy towards Burma should reflect our conviction that oppression and impunity must come to an end, and that the regime must move toward a negotiated settlement with Aung San Suu Kyi that grants her a leading and irreversible political role culminating in free and fair national elections," he said. If it does not, the regime will not be able to manage the transition when it does come, for it will come, without its consent."

Senator McCain denounced governments, particularly China, that continue to engage with the Burmese government, and he criticized Japan for its announcement earlier Tuesday that it would not change its policy toward Rangoon because of Burma's crackdown.

"Shame on the Japanese! Music to the ear of the junta, perhaps, but I believe friends of the Burmese people must take a radically different principled approach to a problem that kind words will only exacerbate," blasted Senator McCain.

For its part, the Burmese government says members of Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy initiated the clash by attacking pro-government groups.

Mr. McCain says change will never come to Burma while the military government remains in power.

"The junta cannot oversee the reform and opening of Burma for it remains the biggest obstacle to the freedom and prosperity of the Burmese people," he stressed. "Burma cannot change as long as the junta rules, without restraint or remorse.

Aung San Suu Kyi was released from house arrest last year after 19 months of captivity. She was also detained by the government for six years ending in 1995.

Her party won the country's last election in 1990 by a landslide, but the generals refused to hand over power.