Myanmar: Armed police back in Yangon

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Yangon, Oct 26: Myanmar's junta surrounded key Buddhist religious sites with armed police on Friday, the end of Buddhist Lent, to prevent any risk of a resurgence of last month's monk-led protests, the biggest uprising in two decades.

The source was prevented from taking photographs of the extra security around the gilded Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's holiest shrine and the rallying point of dissident monks who started their protest marches exactly one month ago.

The dissent kicked off six weeks earlier with sporadic civilian demonstrations against shock fuel price rises.

Police were also out in force at Sule Pagoda in downtown Yangon, where the marches against deepening poverty and 45 years of military rule in the former Burma had come to an end.

There were no barricades, although police had coils of barbed-wire at the ready to seal off the streets, a tactic used when soldiers were sent in last month to disperse tens of thousands of demonstrators.

State media say 10 people were killed in the crackdown, although Western governments say the real toll is likely to be far higher.

Nearly 3,000 people were arrested nationwide, although all but a few hundred have been freed, state media say, and curfews imposed during the crackdown have been lifted, suggesting the generals are confident they have things under control.

Official papers also gave more details of detained opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi's meeting on Thursday with Aung Kyi, a deputy minister and retired Major-General appointed as a go-between after a visit by UN special envoy Ibrahim Gambari.

The New Light of Myanmar, the junta's main mouthpiece, said the meeting between the pair at a government guest house lasted 75 minutes. It also published a picture of them sitting either side of a table.

Aung Kyi bears a smile, but Suu Kyi, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years in detention, appears stony faced.

Despite this, people in Yangon hoped the meeting might herald the start of meaningful talks between the generals and Suu Kyi, whose National League for Democracy (NLD) won a 1990 election landslide but was denied the chance to take power.

''We were all really thrilled to hear this news. I hope it is the beginning of a turning point,'' teashop owner Ba Khin said.

The NLD declined to comment, saying it had no idea what was discussed at the meeting, which coincided with Gambari holding talks in Beijing to try to persuade China, the generals' most important backer, to take a tougher stance.

Despite having expressed rare concern at the crackdown, Beijing gave no sign it was willing to consider concrete action such as sanctions, stressing that words were the way forward.

''The Myanmar issue, after all, has to be appropriately resolved by its own people and government through their own efforts of dialogue and consultation,'' State Councilor Tang Jiaxuan told Gambari.

Gambari is expected to complete his six-country regional tour with a return visit to Myanmar in early November.


REUTERS
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