WASHINGTON – First lady Laura Bush has a message for the people of Myanmar: The world is watching.
The recent crackdown by the Southeast Asian nation's military government on pro-democracy activists must end, the first lady told a small group of reporters at the White House on Wednesday. The people of Myanmar, also known as Burma, are suffering, she said.
"I want them to know that the rest of the world does condemn these actions of the Burmese government, the harassment and jailing of political peaceful demonstrators," Mrs. Bush said. "All these demonstrators want is for the government to be responsive to them."
The ruling military junta in Myanmar has detained scores of activists and used gangs of hired thugs to snuff out protests that began Aug. 19 over higher fuel and consumer goods prices.
During her interview, Mrs. Bush also raised the imprisonment of Nobel laureate and pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi. She has taken a special interest in Suu Kyi, who has spent more than 11 of the past 18 years in detention.
"She represents to me really the hopes of everyone in Burma, of all the Burmese, who long for a day of democracy there, a day without an oppressive regime," the first lady said.
The military took power in 1988 after crushing vast pro-democracy demonstrations in Myanmar. Suu Kyi's party won a general election by a landslide in 1990, but junta leaders refused to hand over power.
The first lady has raised Suu Kyi's plight before in meetings at the United Nations and with senators in Washington.
Asked if her desire to speak out now was a departure for her into heavier political issues, Mrs. Bush rejected the suggestion.
"I've been interested in political issues like this, policy issues around the world, for the whole time George has been president," the first lady said. "You know, I think this is sort of one of those myths that I was baking cookies and then they fell off a cookie sheet and I called (U.N. Secretary-General) Ban Ki-moon."
Mrs. Bush called the U.N. Secretary-General last week to urge him to condemn the junta's treatment of dissidents and to press for the Security Council to prevent more violence in Myanmar.
President Bush, in Australia for a summit of Pacific Rim leaders, joined his wife in condemning the recent violence.
"It's inexcusable that we have this kind of tyrannical behavior in Asia," Bush said Wednesday at a joint news conference in Sydney with Australian Prime Minister John Howard, who is hosting this year's Asia Pacific Economic Cooperation forum.
Bush said he planned to raise the issue of Myanmar with the 20 other leaders at their meetings this weekend.