Myanmar lifts curfew imposed after protests

YANGON Sat Oct 20, 2007 12:58pm EDT

People watch military personnel walking in Yangon, in this September 29, 2007 file photo. Myanmar's military junta lifted a curfew in Yangon on Saturday which was imposed last month after mass protests that prompted a crackdown. REUTERS/Mizzima News

People watch military personnel walking in Yangon, in this September 29, 2007 file photo. Myanmar's military junta lifted a curfew in Yangon on Saturday which was imposed last month after mass protests that prompted a crackdown.

Credit: Reuters/Mizzima News

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YANGON (Reuters) - Myanmar's military junta lifted a curfew in the country's main city Yangon on Saturday in another sign the generals are feeling strong enough to relax their grip after crushing a monk-led revolt last month.

The announcement, made by loudspeaker trucks driving through the streets of Yangon, also ended a ban on gatherings of more than five people, residents said.

"All measures imposed on September 25 have been lifted," one resident quoted the announcement as saying.

It was not known if a similar clampdown in the central city of Mandalay, which also saw mass protests against the junta, had been lifted too.

Last weekend the junta restored public Internet access more than two weeks after cutting Web connections to stem the flow of images of the protests. The response to the protests outraged the world and triggered tougher Western sanctions, the latest announced by U.S. President George W. Bush on Friday.

The curfew and ban on assembly were imposed at the height of the crackdown on the biggest challenge to 45 years of military rule in the former Burma since 1988, when some 3,000 pro-democracy protesters were believed killed by soldiers.

The government admits 10 people were killed last month when the army crushed the huge demonstrations which began as small protests against fuel price rises in August and escalated as Buddhist monks joined in.

Western governments say the toll is likely far higher.

Soldiers and police raided dozens of monasteries in Yangon and elsewhere, arresting nearly 3,000 people and monks and subjecting many to brutal interrogations.

State media said this week 377 were still detained.

U.N. ENVOY

The junta had reduced the curfew in Yangon to just four hours a week ago, but arrests of opponents continued despite international pressure for talks with the opposition led by detained democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi.

The regime freed an 82-year-old member of Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy on Friday who was sentenced to five years in jail for joining the protests.

"They said it was because of my old age," Sein Kyaw, among five NLD members sentenced to long jail terms this week in Rakhine state, 250 miles northwest of Yangon, said after his release.

United Nations special envoy Ibrahim Gambari, touring Asia to seek a common approach to persuading the generals to compromise with Suu Kyi, has called for the arrests to stop.

In Jakarta on Thursday, Gambari said China, the closest the junta has to an ally, must do more to encourage the generals to talk to the Nobel peace laureate who has spent nearly 12 of last 18 years in detention.

Gambari is due to go to India and then China next week. Both nations bordering Myanmar are seen as having some sway over the regime, which has offered direct talks with Suu Kyi if she gave up key positions.

However, the military, which refused to hand over power after Suu Kyi's party won a 1990 election, has shown no sign of deviating from its 7-step "roadmap to democracy" which critics deride as a sham to keep the generals in power.

This week it announced a hand-picked commission to draft a new constitution, but gave no timeframe for completing its work.

Stage one of the roadmap -- a National Convention to draw up the "detailed basic principles" of the charter -- finished in September after 14 years of on-off meetings, most of which were boycotted by Suu Kyi's party.

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