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Monday, September 24

Burma Cliffhanger; China intercedes on behalf of democracy

You read that headline right. Here's the latest on the protests from today's UK Guardian. (Thank God the Guardian headlined the report "Burma protests" instead of "saffron revolution.") If the Guardian analysis is correct, China's intervention represents their strongest foreign policy move yet in this era.
Tens of thousands of people joined around 10,000 Buddhist monks in Rangoon [Yangon] today in the biggest demonstration against the ruling military in Burma for 20 years.

The monks were also supported by two of the country's best-known celebrities, as speculation mounted that the British prime minister, Gordon Brown, will voice his support for the protests at the Labour party conference today.

So far, the ruling military has shown unexpected restraint in its handling of the protests, which have entered their sixth day. Experts claim the rulers are under pressure from China, Burma's key trading partner, not to use heavy-handed tactics. [...]

The monks, who have taken over a faltering protest movement from political activists, have managed to bring people into the streets in numbers not seen since a 1988 pro-democracy uprising snuffed out by the army at a cost of thousands of lives.

The protests began in August as a movement against economic hardship, after the government sharply raised fuel prices, increasing the overall cost of living.

But arrests and intimidation kept demonstrations small and scattered until the monks entered the fray.

The number of monks marching through Rangoon in the last six days has been matched or out-numbered by civilian supporters. [...]

The increasingly confrontational tone of the anti-government protesters has raised both expectations of possible political change and fear the military might forcefully stamp out the demonstrations, as it did in 1988.

China has been putting pressure on the Burmese regime behind the scenes to move toward democracy and speed up reform.

A Burmese expert, Josef Silverstein, said it would not be in China's interest to have civil unrest in Burma.

"China is very eager to have a peaceful Burma in order to complete roads and railroads, to develop mines and finish assimilating the country under its economic control," he told Associated Press. "As long as there is war or potential for war, that doesn't serve China's interest at all."

Larry Jagan, a Bangkok-based analyst, said: "The Chinese, the Indians, the (south-east Asian countries) are not going to be prepared to see civilians shot mercilessly by soldiers." [...]
My, my, how times have changed.
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