hide captionPresident George Bush addresses the United Nations on Tuesday.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
President George Bush addresses the United Nations on Tuesday.
Spencer Platt/Getty Images
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."
hide captionBuddhist monks march down a street in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday despite warnings from the government.
Buddhist monks march down a street in Yangon, Myanmar, on Tuesday despite warnings from the government.
hide captionBuddhist monks march on a street in protest against the military government in Yangon, Myanmar, on Monday.
Tens of thousands of Buddhist monks in Myanmar marched in defiance of the military junta's order to discontinue anti-government demonstrations, conducting an eighth day of mass protests in the country's two largest cities.
Cheered on by supporters and shadowed by pro-junta supporters in pickup trucks, the monks marched peacefully Tuesday from the soaring Shwedagon Pagoda in the capital Yangon as about 700 others staged a similar show of defiance in the country's second-largest city of Mandalay.
The protests, which have reached 100,000 in recent days, have built to a scale and level of fervor not seen since a 1988 uprising when the military regime fired on peaceful crowds and launched a crackdown that killed thousands in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma.
Following Monday's demonstrations, led by a phalanx of barefoot monks, the U.S. said it was poised to impose additional sanctions against Myanmar's military rulers.
President Bush was to announce the sanctions against key members of the junta and those who provide them financial aid in a Tuesday speech at the U.N. General Assembly, the White House said.
The U.S. already restricts imports and exports and financial transactions with Myanmar. Washington also has imposed an arms embargo on Myanmar.
So far, Myanmar's junta has been handling the monks gingerly, wary of raising the ire of ordinary citizens in this devout, predominantly Buddhist nation.
But diplomats said troops have been discreetly deployed in downtown Yangon and could easily be called in against the protesters. Some schools in Yangon, the country's largest city, were closed.
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 from Shwedagon to the Sule Pagoda in central Yangon - a distance of more than a mile - under a scorching sun.
Some party members carried flags of the fighting peacock, a symbol of the democracy movement, while students held a banner saying "Nonviolence, peaceful expression" in Burmese.
Following Monday's march, authorities in cars cruised Yangon's streets Tuesday, announcing that the clergy have been directed not to take part in "secular affairs" and saying that certain elements were trying to instigate unrest in the country.
Warnings also were sent out against all illegal gatherings in a country where an assembly of more than five can amount to breaking the law.
The government's New Light of Myanmar newspaper quoted Religious Affairs Minister Brig. Gen. Thura Myint Maung as saying that protests by monks also had spread to cities like Mandalay, Hinthada and Monywa in seven of the country's 14 states and divisions.
The demonstrations have escalated in just one week from a marginalized movement to mass protests drawing not only the monks but people from all walks of life.
In Mandalay, ordinary people were starting to join the monks or follow them on foot, motorcycles, bicycles and trishaws, though many still appeared too afraid to show their open support.
"I support the monks. However, if I join them, the government will arrest me," said a man selling belts at a Mandalay market. He declined to give his name, fearing reprisals from officials.
The head of the country's official Buddhist organization, or Sangha, issued a directive Monday ordering monks to stick to just learning and propagating the faith, saying young monks were being "compelled by a group of destructive elements within and without to break the law."
The current protests began Aug. 19 after the government sharply raised fuel prices in what is one of Asia's poorest countries. But they are based in deep-rooted dissatisfaction with the repressive military government that has ruled the country in one form or another since 1962.