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Armed police back in Yangon as "Buddhist Lent" ends

By Aung Hla Tun, Reuters, Oct 26, 2007

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar's junta sent armed police to ring key Buddhist sites on Friday, the end of an annual period of monastic retreat, to prevent any resurgence of last month's monk-led protests, the biggest uprising in two decades.

<< People pack the square at the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest shrine and the rallying point of dissident monks who started their protest marches exactly one month ago, to mark the end of Buddhist lent in Yangon, October 26, 2007. - REUTERS/Aung Hla Tun

A Reuters reporter was prevented from taking photographs of the extra security around the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest shrine and the rallying point for dissident monks who started their protest marches exactly one month ago.

The dissent had kicked off six weeks earlier with sporadic civilian demonstrations against shock fuel price rises.

Police were also out in force at Sule Pagoda in central Yangon, where the protest marches against deepening poverty and 45 years of military rule in the former Burma used to end.

There were no barricades, although police had coils of barbed wire at the ready to seal off the streets, a tactic used when soldiers were sent in last month to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators.

State media say 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but Western governments say the real toll is likely to be far higher.

Nearly 3,000 people were arrested nationwide, although all but a few hundred have been freed, state media say, and curfews imposed during the crackdown have been lifted, suggesting the generals are confident they have things under control.

Official newspapers also gave more details of Thursday's meeting between detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi and Aung Kyi, a deputy minister and retired major-general named as a go-between after a visit by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

The New Light of Myanmar, the junta's main mouthpiece, said the meeting at a government guest house had lasted 75 minutes. It published a picture of the pair sitting either side of a table.

Aung Kyi wears a smile, but Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention, appears stony faced.

"FIRST STEP"

Gambari, who is due back in Myanmar in the first week of November, welcomed the talks, but stressed that the appointment on Aung Kyi as liaison was only a first step.

"This should lead to the early resumption of the dialogue that leads to very concrete and tangible results," he told reporters after meeting Japanese Prime Minister Yasuo Fukuda in Tokyo.

People in Yangon also hoped the meeting might herald the start of meaningful talks between the generals and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won a 1990 election landslide but was denied the chance to take power.

"We were all really thrilled to hear this news. I hope it is the beginning of a turning point," teashop owner Ba Khin said.

The NLD declined to comment, saying it had no idea what was discussed at the meeting, which coincided with Gambari holding talks in Beijing to try to persuade China, the generals' most important backer, to take a tougher stance.

Despite having expressed rare concern at the crackdown, Beijing gave no sign it was willing to consider concrete action such as sanctions, stressing that words were the way forward.

"The Myanmar issue, after all, has to be appropriately resolved by its own people and government through their own efforts of dialogue and consultation," State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told Gambari.

Gambari is expected to complete his six-country regional tour with a return visit to Myanmar in early November.

(Additional reporting by Isabel Reynolds in Tokyo)



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