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China joins in strong statement to Myanmar

From Reuters

China joined Western powers for the first time to deplore Myanmar’s brutal crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations and call for political dialogue in a statement issued Thursday by the U.N. Security Council.

The statement urged the military regime, which has ruled Myanmar for 45 years, to free all political prisoners and protesters soon and prepare for a “genuine dialogue” with main opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

The policy statement is not legally binding, but because it required the consent of all 15 Security Council members, it left the Myanmar government isolated, Western diplomats said.

It was the first time the Security Council had taken official action on Myanmar and marked a shift for China, a neighbor and key trading partner that had previously used its veto to prevent criticism of the country’s authorities.

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The United Nations said special envoy Ibrahim Gambari would leave over the weekend for an Asian tour that would include his second visit to Myanmar since the regime suppressed the demonstrations led by Buddhist monks last month.

Authorities in Myanmar, also known as Burma, said 10 people were killed in the crackdown, but activists and Western governments believe the toll was likely much higher.

In an interview aired Thursday on PBS’ “NewsHour with Jim Lehrer,” U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon said the U.N. would continue to use its “moral voice” to pursue change in Myanmar. “We have been mobilizing all possible political influences of leaders in the region and in the world,” he said.

“The Security Council strongly deplores the use of violence against peaceful demonstrations in Myanmar,” said the statement read by council President Leslie Kojo Christian of Ghana after Western nations and China haggled for six days over the text.

The council “emphasizes the importance of the early release of all political prisoners and remaining detainees,” it said.

The United States, Britain and France, which initiated the statement, said the regime must act soon or they would pressure the council to return to the issue.

“The regime’s commitments to work with the U.N. and Mr. Gambari must be followed by action,” White House spokesman Gordon Johndroe said.

U.S. Ambassador Zalmay Khalilzad said, “We will not relent. We will persist.”

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