Britons 'should take to streets in support of Burmese opposition'

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Indy Politics

A Foreign Office minister is encouraging people to support peaceful demonstrations in Britain against the violent suppression of monks in Burma.

It is highly unusual for a government minister to call for protests, but Meg Munn, Foreign Office minister with responsibility for the region, said it was important to keep the plight of the Burmese high on the agenda.

"We want to make sure this doesn't fall out of the news and people's consciousness," said Ms Munn. "Having got to this stage, we don't want to let this go away.

"It is nearly 20 years since the last big demonstrations and this is an opportunity for things to change in Burma. We have got to seize that opportunity. That is what the government strategy is. We think the people of the UK have a really big role to play."

She cited the silent vigil in her home city of Sheffield by ethnic Karen refugees from the Thai-Burma border region as the type of protest she would endorse.

But she drew the line at the so-called "panty protest", where women have been asked to post their underwear to the military rulers of Burma as an insult to their manhood.

"The role of the non-government organisations here and in the region is very important. They keep raising the issue. They keep saying we are not going to forget about it. Information does get through and they are letting people in Burma know that the international community hasn't forgotten, hasn't ignored them and is not going to forget about it," Ms Munn.

Monks were arrested, monasteries raided, and there were reports of brutality by the military forces in the crackdown on protests. But this week, about 100 monks protested in the Buddhist religious centre of Pakokku, where 100,000 took to the streets in September.

Ms Munn said it was "not unexpected" that monks had taken to the streets again. The British ambassador, Mark Canning, had said the regime had not solved the underlying causes of the protests. Big rises in diesel and petrol prices helped trigger the protests.

In the Commons this week, MPs called for the Burmese authorities to be prosecuted in the International Criminal Court and for tougher sanctions.

Cautioning the regime against a fresh crackdown, Ms Munn said the junta was being offered a way out. "There are opportunities for a process of negotiation. They have made some steps and if they go along that road ... we recognise there are humanitarian problems and finance can be put together to help."

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