In Profound Reversal, Myanmar Opens to 'All' Aid

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U.N. Secretary General Ban Ki-moon says the ruling junta has agreed to allow "all aid workers" into the country to help cyclone survivors. It's a welcome sign for relief workers, whose efforts have been largely stifled by the country's regime.

BILL WOLFF: From NPR News in New York, this is the Bryant Park Project.


Overlooking historic Bryant Park in midtown Manhattan, live from NPR Studios, this is the Bryant Park Project from NPR News. News, information, two and half men. I'm Mike Pesca.


And I'm Robert Smith. In today for Rachel Martin who is, of course, in for Alison Stewart, who is in for Susan Stamberg, or something like that. It is Friday May 23rd, 2008.

PESCA: Who is the half a man? I get that we are two men...

SMITH: We are the two men, the half a man...

PESCA: Who is the unaccounted for half a man?

SMITH: It is the ghost of somebody in the studios with us.

PESCA: Well, it is marginally unprecedented for two men to be hosting an NPR show.

SMITH: It is, it is.

PESCA: It is not totally unprecedented. I talked to Alex Chadwick last night and he told me that the last time two men were in a regular rotation, he and, I think, Robert Siegel hosted All Things Considered, and back then guys that you know, like Neal Conan, were producers and Ira Glass was the young kid on the staff.

SMITH: Well, you know the thing is that I was looking back at radio history and apparently back in the 20s...

PESCA: Alex Chadwick was as far back as I went in radio history.

SMITH: There was a huge thing in the 1920s that women could not host radio programs because they said their voices were too high and too shrill and it wouldn't carry over the primitive radio waves they were using.

(Soundbite of laughter)

PESCA: It's just the timbre of their voice.

SMITH: Plus they said that they literally could not come through the speakers, and there was a huge debate about whether women could actually host programs, and there was one radio professional who said they also have too much personality in their voice. They can't reach that middle level that men can.

PESCA: So they are too emotional, too high strung.

SMITH: They are all over the place, according to the radio broadcast magazine 1924.

PESCA: Well luckily we know that men never get emotional and lose it.

Mr. BILL O'REILLY (Television Host, The O'Reilly Factor): (Shouting) We'll do it live. We'll do it live, (beep) it. Do it live. Don't write it and we'll do it live.

PESCA: It is Friday, May 23rd, 2008, and on the show this hour, gaming the system. A guy who goes by the screen MrBabyMan on is accused of gaming the site to get his stories to the top of the rankings. So is it merit-based social networking or something else?

SMITH: The NHL finals start this weekend. The Detroit Red Wings and Pittsburg Penguins meet in Detroit for the best of seven series. We will have the preview from Yahoo! sports.

PESCA: And a classic TV show re-imagined in graphic novel form. Eight books based on the Twilight Zone are set to be released later this year, and I will have a conversation with the author of those books. We will get you today's headlines in just a minute. But first...

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PESCA: A breakthrough in Myanmar. Three weeks after Cyclone Nargis struck, UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon says the ruling junta has agreed today to allow aid workers into the country to help cyclone survivors.

SMITH: The Secretary General spent more than two hours meeting with Senior General, Than Shwe, the most powerful figure in the country, also known as Burma. The UN chief says he also secured permission to use Yangon airport as a logistical hub for humanitarian relief.

PESCA: It is a welcome sign for international aid workers whose efforts have been largely stifled by Myanmar's military regime. A senior UN official says the junta has agreed to let foreign aid workers have access to the hardest hit areas of the Irrawaddy delta, but there has been no confirmation from the government.

SMITH: The BBC's Jonathan Head is in neighboring Thailand. He said Ban's announcement has been met with caution.

JONATHAN HEAD: The statement that Ban Ki-Moon gave when he came out was all aid workers, but you know, this is a very general phrase, and we are dealing with a government that we know is intensely suspicious of the idea of giving foreigners free reign or free movement in Burma, they've never done it before. And which has a track record of offering things to the United Nations and then withdrawing them, with lots of misunderstandings over what was promised. So I think everyone, including Ban Ki-Moon is going to be very cautious at this stage. When he was asked if this was a breakthrough, he simply said, I think so.

SMITH: The Secretary General has gone to great pains to assure Myanmar's leaders that if they open their borders for aid, they aren't opening themselves to political unrest. Here's Ban on Wednesday in Bangkok as he prepared to travel to Myanmar.

Secretary General BAN KI-MOON (United Nations): Aid in Myanmar should not be politicized. Our focus now is on saving lives.

PESCA: But the BBC's Head says Myanmar's rulers remain skeptical.

HEAD: I think they genuinely fear that once you open the door to large numbers of foreigners, you internationalize the situation in the delta, they are going to lose control of it. Their mind set is one of obsessive control. They think always in terms of security first. But the implications for Burma, if they do allow large numbers of foreigners in, are probably quite significant, it could actually bring about significant changes that we can't predict.

PESCA: Cyclone Nargis killed at least 78,000, another 56,000 are missing, with some two and a half million survivors at risk of disease, starvation and exposure to monsoon rains.

SMITH: You can go to throughout the day for updates on this story. Now, let's get some more of today's headlines with the BPP's Mark Garrison.

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