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HOPE FADING AS MILITARY STAMPS OUT PROTESTS, COMMUNICATIONS

Burma's protests against the military junta and declining living standards have escalated from peaceful demonstrations and military warnings to bloody confrontations that have left an unknown number of people dead, including a Japanese journalist, report Mizzima News, the Southeast Asian Press Alliance (SEAPA) and Burmese exile-run news sources. Authorities have also cut off the Internet and mobile phones that have played a crucial role in documenting the protests and getting information out of the notoriously closed regime.

Since the junta announced a 60-day dusk until dawn curfew and ban on public gatherings of more than five people on 25 September, security forces have arrested and beaten hundreds of protesters in an attempt to quash the largest uprising since the rebellion by students and monks in 1988, in which more than 3,000 people were killed.

Kenji Nagai, a Japanese photojournalist for the Tokyo-based video and photo agency APF News, was one of 10 people killed during demonstrations in Rangoon last week, according to official reports. But witness accounts range from several dozen deaths to as many as 200. Nagai was shot in the chest at point-blank range on 27 September. Two hundred military troops threatened protesters that they must disperse or face "extreme action", after which they used tear gas and opened fire on demonstrators, says Mizzima News.

The tight security of the repressive regime makes it impossible to verify how many people are dead, detained or missing. According to Reporters Without Borders (Reporters sans frontières, RSF), at least a thousand people have been arrested since protests started against soaring fuel prices on 19 August.

A young, local journalist for "The Voice", Kyaw Kyaw Tun, was reportedly beaten by security police and thrown into a military truck after he took photos of the military facing down protesters at Burma's most famous shrine, the Shwedagon Pagoda, Mizzima News reports. He, along with two other Burmese journalists - Nay Lin Aung, who works for the weekly "7 Day News", and an as yet unidentified female journalist employed by "Weekly Eleven News" - have been missing for several days, report RSF and the Committee to Protect Journalists (CPJ). Min Zaw, the Burmese correspondent of the Japanese daily "Tokyo Shimbun", was arrested at his Rangoon home on 28 September, say RSF and CPJ.

Troops have also raided monasteries to beat and arrest the monks, including students and young children, who have been leading marches every day since 19 September, according to exile-run Burmese media.

Citizen reporters were at the forefront in informing the world of the protests. But on Friday, the junta cut Internet access in Burma - the main medium that has allowed the world access to images and reports about the violence and political crisis gripping the country, reports SEAPA. Internet cafes have also been closed.

The disruption follows the ban of some popular websites and blogs that were continuously posting news and photos of the protests. The Burmese authorities, who hold a monopoly over telecommunications systems in the country, have also tapped or disconnected the mobile and landline phones of reporters of domestic and foreign media and wire agencies and pro-democracy activists. Foreign journalists have also been refused tourist visas by the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

According to SEAPA, refugees escaping to neighbouring countries have become one of the few sources of information about the unfolding tragedy. "With Burma isolated and cut off from the rest of the world, the refugees are crucial to providing eyewitness accounts of the latest atrocities the junta is committing against the unarmed civilians," says SEAPA. SEAPA is calling on Burma's neighbours to accommodate the Burmese refugees.

SEAPA, the Cambodian Centre for Human Rights, the Alliance of Independent Journalists of Indonesia (AJI), ARTICLE 19 and RSF held a day of solidarity and prayer for the people of Burma on 29 September during an informal Asia-Europe Meeting Seminar on Human Rights. The groups gathered at Angkor Wat in Cambodia and held a moment of silence, followed by a short programme expressing solidarity with the Burmese as well as calling on the junta to exercise restraint.

Meanwhile, UN envoy Ibrahim Gambari had talks with Burma's detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi over the weekend to discuss how to end the crackdown. Gambari has also reportedly met with the leader of the junta, General Than Shwe. A special session of the UN Human Rights Council today, 2 October, adopted a resolution that "strongly deplores" the violent repression of demonstrations, and urges the authorities to release all political prisoners and ensure unhindered access to the media for the Burmese people. An arms embargo and targeted sanctions were not mentioned.

A petition in support of the peaceful protests to China and the UN Security Council is seeking one million signatures. Sign here: http://tinyurl.com/293qj3

Get involved by joining the Facebook group, "Support the Monks' protest in Burma", which has more than 250,000 members: http://www.facebook.com/group.php?gid=24957770200

Over the coming weeks, vigils are planned in major cities worldwide, and a global coordinated day of action is set for 6 October.

Visit these links:
- IFEX page on Burma: http://tinyurl.com/2voc8y
- Mizzima News: http://www.mizzima.com/
- SEAPA: http://www.seapabkk.org/
- Statement issued at Asia-Europe Meeting Seminar on Human Rights:
http://www.article19.org/pdfs/press/burma-petition.pdf
- Burma Media Association: http://www.bma-online.org/
- BurmaNet News: http://www.burmanet.org/news/2007/10/
- Democratic Voice of Burma: http://english.dvb.no/index.php
- Free Burma: http://freeburma.org/
- "The Irrawaddy": http://www.irrawaddy.org/
- Burmese blogger Niknayman on the Committee to Protect Bloggers website: http://tinyurl.com/35lj4d
(Photo: Japanese photojournalist Kenji Nagai tries to take pictures after being shot by soldiers who charged at protesters in Rangoon on 28 September. Nagai later died of his wounds. Photo courtesy of Reuters)

(2 October 2007)

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