President Bush announced new sanctions against Burma on Tuesday. Earlier in the day, tens of thousands of Buddhist monks staged protests despite orders from the country's military junta to keep quiet. "Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma," Bush said in an address to the United Nations.
The so-called “Saffron Revolution” is approaching a “decisive moment,” said The Boston Globe (free registration) in an editorial. The “brutal military regime” has already sent security forces to shoot over the heads of demostrators and “beat up some of the monks.” With pressures building, “there is a mounting danger that the swelling throngs of protesters may soon be assaulted by a regime that rarely hesitates to use violence.”
“Whether that happens may depend in large measure on what the generals hear from the outside world in the next day or two,” said The Washington Post (free registration) in an editorial. The last time the country’s “long-suffering democratic opposition” stood up—in a 1988 pro-democracy uprising—the military responded with “massacres in which 3,000 Burmese died.” The junta’s “first instinct will be to repeat the bloodbath.” Unless the demonstrators receive international support, “one of the world’s most oppressed nations” is about to relive its worst nightmare.
If the government tries to crush the monks, said Georgetown University professor David Steinberg in the Los Angeles Times (free registration), “it does so at its peril.” Burma—known as Myanmar under this regime—is two-thirds Buddhist, and “the religion has an overwhelming influence on day-to-day life.” Buddhism is a key ingredient in “Burmese nationalism,” and a “source of legitimacy” for political leaders. The government knows it will survive the demonstrations unless it makes a wrong move and ignites a “powder keg” of resentment.