WASHINGTON – The United States criticized Myanmar on Friday for cutting off Internet access and called on "all civilized nations" to pressure the military-run government to end its violent crackdown on protesters.
"They don't want the world to see what is going on there," White House spokesman Scott Stanzel said.
President George W. Bush and British Prime Minister Gordon Brown talked about the situation via secure video teleconference on Friday. They agreed on the importance of a planned visit this weekend to Myanmar by U.N. special envoy Ibrahim Gambari and on "the need for countries around the world to continue to make their views clear to the junta," Stanzel said.
"They need to refrain from violence and move to a peaceful transition to democracy," Stanzel said.
The government of Myanmar, also known as Burma, said 10 people have been killed since the violence began earlier this week, but diplomats say the toll is likely much higher. By blocking public access to the Internet, the regime cut off one of the few ways of getting information about the protests out of Myanmar, where media freedom is severely restricted.
Daily protests drawing tens of thousands of people have grown into the stiffest challenge to the ruling military junta in two decades. The crisis began Aug. 19 with rallies against a fuel price increase, then escalated dramatically when monks joined in, drawing world attention. The crackdown has been muted by Myanmar standards, but there are fears the government is preparing to intensify it.
On Friday, soldiers clubbed and dragged away activists while firing tear gas and warning shots to break up demonstrations.
The United States imposed new sanctions Thursday on more than a dozen of the junta's leaders. Bush's conversation with Brown was part of a U.S. determination to keep the international focus on the situation high, and Stanzel said there would be more such talks.
"We call on the junta to stop the violence," Stanzel said. "The crackdown on the peaceful protesters there is quite barbaric."