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Bush Announces Sanctions on Myanmar

President George Bush addresses the United Nations on Tuesday.
Spencer Platt
Getty Images
President George Bush addresses the United Nations on Tuesday.

President Bush said the United States is "outraged" by human rights abuses in Myanmar and announced Tuesday that Washington would tighten economic sanctions against the country's military rulers amid mass anti-government protests there.

During his annual address to the U.N. General Assembly, Mr. Bush accused the junta in Myanmar, also known as Burma, of imposing "a 19-year reign of fear" that denies basic freedoms of speech, assembly and worship.

"Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma," he said.

"The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers," he said. "We will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious violations of human rights."

The president also addressed the issue of terrorism, saying the world needs to "defeat their dark ideology with a more hopeful vision."

Mr. Bush made only a passing reference to Iran, listing it among other nations — Belarus, North Korea and Syria whose "brutal regimes deny their people the fundamental rights enshrined in the Universal Declaration" of the United Nations.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad, who is visiting the U.S., has been a focus of media attention in recent days as he has given a number of speeches and interviews leading up to the U.N. meeting, where he was to speak later Tuesday.

The new U.S. sanctions on Myanmar were aimed at addressing a resurgent pro-democracy movement there that has seen tens of thousands of Buddhist monks pour into the streets in recent days.

On Monday, demonstrations in the largest city, Yangon, reached 100,000, becoming the biggest demonstrations since a pro-democracy uprising in 1988. Joining the monks Tuesday were members of the pro-democracy National League for Democracy, headed by Aung San Suu Kyi, as well as university students. They marched more than a mile to the Sule Pagoda under a scorching sun.

In his U.N. speech, Mr. Bush also mentioned Cuba. He said he is looking ahead to a Cuba no longer ruled by Fidel Castro, the ailing 81-year-old leader of the communist-run government.

"In Cuba, the long rule of a cruel dictator is nearing its end," Bush said. "The Cuban people are ready for their freedom. And as that nation enters a period of transition, the United Nations must insist on free speech, free assembly and, ultimately, free and competitive elections."

Bush urged the U.N. to reform its Human Rights Council, created to replace the discredited Human Rights Commission. But he criticized the new body for ignoring abuses in places such as Iran "while focusing its criticism excessively on Israel."

"The American people are disappointed by the failures of the Human Rights Council," Bush said. "The United Nations must reform its own Human Rights Council."

He also touched on the U.S. commitment to fighting diseases such as AIDS and malaria.

"Earlier this year, I proposed to double our initial commitment to $30 billion. By coming together, the world can turn the tide against HIV/AIDS once and for all," he said.

But the president's call for change came with the suggestion of a deal: the United States' support for the highly contentious issue of expanding the Security Council, the U.N.'s most powerful body.

Bush suggested that Japan is "well-qualified" to be an additional member and said "other nations should be considered as well."

The council has 10 rotating members elected for two-year terms and five permanent members with veto power — the United States, Russia, China, Britain and France. Bush said the United States would listen to all "good ideas."

From NPR reports and The Associated Press

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