Security forces barricaded streets and surrounded several Buddhist monestaries in Myanmar -- formerly known as Burma -- as a crackdown on pro-democracy demonstrations continued Friday. Police have used tear gas and fired into crowds. The military junta that rules the country says 10 people have been killed in the last two days, but Australia’s ambassador said unconfirmed reports put the death toll in the dozens. Hundreds of monks and other protesters have been beaten and arrested.
The Bush administration on Thursday announced that it was imposing economic sanctions against the Southeast Asian nation’s leaders, including junta leader Gen. Than Shwe and his second-in-command, Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye. Bush also urged China—the Burmese junta's chief economic and political ally—to use its influence to stop the bloodshed. “The world is watching the people of Burma take to the streets to demand their freedom,” Bush said, “and the American people stand in solidarity with these brave individuals.”
The “young, barefoot monks in their cinnamon robes” have quickly become “a symbol of conscience for a young century,” said Michael Gerson in The Washington Post (free registration). They embody the “serene courage” that is “the great virtue of Buddhims,” but they have also “shown that nonviolence need not be tame or toothless.” The monks are “playing spiritual hardball”—refusing to take alms from regime leaders so they can atone for bad deeds. And it might work. “Political revolutions often begin as revolutions of the spirit.”
The “quixotic tyrants” that run the impoverished country won’t give up easily, said Jonathan Kay in Canada’s National Post. And the Bush administration’s sanctions—along with others proposed by French President Nicolas Sarkozy—are “being undercut by Russia and China,” which have blocked an effort to condemn the crackdown at the United Nations. “The soldiers killing protestors in Rangoon may wear Burmese army uniforms. But, indirectly at least, they are being aided and abetted by amoral cynics in Beijing and Moscow.”
The regime doesn’t have as much control as it would like, said Geoffrey A. Fowler in The Wall Street Journal. The government has kept out most foreign reporters, but the protests and the crackdown have become a “trial by fire for so-called citizen journalists” of the YouTube age. So far, activists have managed to use their cell-phones, digital cameras, and the Internet to send out eyewitness reports and photos from every bloody skirmish, “breaking the news to the world.”
China is “giving the regime a green light for brutal repression,” said The Washington Post in an editorial (free registration).
These demonstrations began to protest a sharp hike in fuel prices, said The Seattle Times in an editorial, but the regime has a lot more to lose now.
By "standing up to the guns of a selfish regime," said The Christian Science Monitor in an editorial, the monks are serving as a reminder of "religion's historic role in shaping the kind of moral concern for others that is the root of democracy."
Yes, but the death toll will rise unless the world acts quickly, said the Los Angeles Times in an editorial (free registration).
If the U.N. doesn't act like “an arbiter of right and wrong," said The Miami Herald in an editorial (free registration), it will consign itself to "well-deserved irrelevance.”
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