Friday, September 28, 2007

Dissent in Burma

You may or may not be aware of the street demonstrations that have taken place in Myanmar (formerly Burma) over the last week and a half, demonstrations that began when the ruling military junta announced drastic increases in fuel prices. The military government of Burma is one of the most brutal and repressive in the world, and is notrious for their intolerance of dissent, killing 3,000 of their own citizens in the last serious street demonstrations in 1988. Buddhist monks have led the demonstrations this time, steadily increasing their numbers and culminating in a march by 100,000 people through the city of Yangon on Sept. 24th. The insular and remote military leaders remainded eerily silent for days as the demonstrations built in size and intensity, only ordering troops into streets in large numbers after the massive demonstration in Yangon. Rebuffing the threat of tightened sanctions, soldiers conducted pre-dawn raids of monastaries in an effort to deprive the demonstrators of leadership, and broke up attempts at demonstration with tear gas and bullets. Burmese media outlets report that nine have died so far, though it's likely the toll is far higher. To date, the violent response has only antagonised protesters, who are gathering again today to challenge the military junta. The U.N. Security Council is holding an emergency meeting to discuss what to do about the uprisings, but it's unlikely they'll be able to take concerted action as Russia and China-both of whom have economic interests in the country-are unlikely to support harsh calls for regime change. Unfortunately no amount of international pressure is likely to prompt the military junta to acquiesce to the demands of demonstrators; they clearly are willing to use all force at their disposal to remain power, and will not face significant economic distress as a result of actions of their allies and close neighbors. The extent to which any major powers are willing to intervene on the behalf of the Burmese people is unknown, but it's likely that the junta will simply violently suppress the demonstrations and cut off access to the outside world before any meaningful response can be attempted anyway.

Regardless, the Burmese people deserve our support. To keep abreast of the situation or to send an email or letter of your own, visit the Amnesty International campaign page here.

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