Myanmar protests push Iran down U.N. agenda

By Paul Taylor

UNITED NATIONS (Reuters) - President George W. Bush announced new U.S. sanctions against Myanmar on Tuesday and Western leaders warned the southeast Asian nation's army rulers against crushing pro-democracy protests by force.

Urging all countries to "help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom," Bush told the annual U.N. General Assembly he was imposing financial sanctions and a visa ban on more members of the junta, their supporters and relatives.

His call came before the authorities imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew and poured security forces into Yangon to try to end the biggest demonstrations against military rule for two decades. Earlier, 10,000 Buddhist monks again defied the generals by marching through the city chanting "democracy, democracy."

"Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma, where a military junta has imposed a 19-year reign of fear," Bush told the world body in his annual speech.

Myanmar was formerly called Burma and its capital Rangoon.

"The United States will tighten economic sanctions on the leaders of the regime and their financial backers," Bush said.

The 27-nation European Union said it would strengthen existing sanctions that include an arms embargo, a travel ban and an assets freeze on junta members "should they resort to using violence against the unarmed and peaceful demonstrators."

The Myanmar protests temporarily pushed concern over Iran's nuclear ambitions and the fight against climate change down the agenda on the first day of the U.N. debate, as well as conflicts in Darfur, Iraq and the Middle East.

Separately, the U.N. Security Council gave the green light for a European Union-led peacekeeping force to protect refugees and displaced persons in Chad and the Central African Republic from spillover violence from the Sudanese province of Darfur.


Bush focused in his speech on human rights and promoting democracy, including in Iran, without mentioning the Iranian nuclear program. But a White House spokeswoman said Washington would continue to press for tougher U.N. sanctions on Tehran.

Iranian President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad told the assembly that the issue of his country's nuclear program was "closed" since Tehran was cooperating fully with the U.N. atomic watchdog and its uranium enrichment activities were legal.

Despite military threats and "illegal" sanctions, "Iran has moved forward step by step and now our country is recognized as one with the capacity for industrial-scale fuel cycle production for peaceful purposes," he declared.

French President Nicolas Sarkozy reminded the assembly of the high stakes in the standoff, saying that to allow the Islamic Republic to acquire nuclear weapons could destabilize the world.

"There will be no peace in the world if the international community falters in the face of nuclear arms proliferation ... Weakness and renunciation do not lead to peace. They lead to war," Sarkozy said in his maiden U.N. address.

German Chancellor Angela Merkel said at an awards ceremony in New York that it was not up to the world to prove Tehran sought nuclear weapons, "rather it is up to Iran to prove that it does not want to build an atomic bomb."

In the absence of Venezuelan President Hugo Chavez, who stayed away after sparking an outcry last year by comparing Bush to the devil, it fell to veteran leftist Nicaraguan President Daniel Ortega to deliver an anti-capitalist tirade against U.S. world hegemony.

U.S. leaders continued to dictate what was right or wrong "as if they were God," he declared, while poor countries were still afflicted by "oppression and violence and terror."

The United States accuses Iran of supporting terrorism and arming insurgents in Iraq. Washington is pushing for a third U.N. sanctions resolution over Iran's refusal to halt uranium enrichment, but faces opposition from China and Russia.

(Additional reporting by Matt Spetalnick, Tabassum Zakaria, Jeff Mason, Claudia Parsons and Patrick Worsnip)

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