Crackdown for massacre anniversary

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RESPONDING as only they know how, the Burmese government has mounted a show of force on the streets of the capital to deter demonstrations marking the tenth anniversary of the massacre when pro-democracy protesters outside Rangoon's City Hall were mown down by machine gun-toting soldiers.

There were no reports yesterday of any protests but memories of the massacre are still vivid. Police activity had been concentrated around the home of Aung San Suu Kyi, the democracy leader who is not supposed to be under house arrest, but has her freedom of movement severely constrained.

However, yesterday road blocks were removed and a small number of supporters were allowed to visit her house. Ms Suu Kyi is recovering from spending seven days stuck in a car on the outskirts of the capital, trying to exercise her right to travel freely in the country to meet fellow members of the National League for Democracy (NLD).

A NLD spokesman said she was suffering from fever and dehydration. It now appears that Ms Suu Kyi was not only forcibly returned home by Burmese police, who burst into the car they had previously confined to a small wooden bridge, but they had also denied supplies of food and water. The spokesman quoted Ms Suu Kyi as saying that she had been kidnapped and her car stolen by the authorities.

Meanwhile, international protests over Ms Suu Kyi's treatment have been mounting. The US has taken an especially high-profile role, promising that the Burmese will suffer even greater international isolation as a result of the forced end to the protest.

Madeleine Albright, the US Secretary of State, has described the treatment of the Burmese opposition leader as totally unacceptable. She said the government's claims to have ended Ms Suu Kyi's protest because of concern over her health had been revealed as false because information had now come to light over the way she had been treated.

Currently on a visit to Australia, Mrs Albright has joined forces with the Australian foreign minister, Alexander Downer, to ask Kofi Annan, the UN Secretary-General, to speak to the Burmese government personally, with a view to arranging talks with the opposition.

The government has stated that it will not meet Aung San Suu Kyi until the country's 135 ethnic groups had been united and what it called "the people's basic needs" had been met. Meanwhile, the government is pursuing a ruthless policy of eliminating opposition by ethnic groups and has succeeded in turning one of South-east Asia's most successful economies into one of the poorest.

Although most countries, including Britain, have united in their condemnation of the Burmese government, it is still receiving support from its neighbours. The flow of arms and economic ties, principally with China and Singapore, have done much to mitigate the isolation from the rest of the world.