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U.N. envoy meets with Myanmar junta chief, democracy leader, no word on progress

    YANGON, Myanmar — A U.N. envoy completed his mission to Myanmar on Tuesday with no word of progress on the military junta’s refusal to address the people’s insistent demands for democracy.
    The envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, finally met with Myanmar’s reclusive leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, in the remote capital of Naypyitaw after days of delays. Neither side issued any comment that could satisfy the world’s hopes for a halt to the junta’s harsh crackdown on protesters, which began last week.
    Gambari then flew to Yangon to meet Aung San Suu Kyi, the detained pro-democracy leader. It was his second meeting in three days with the Nobel Peace Prize laureate, who has spent 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.
    The second session with her came as a surprise. As he flew out of the country, the United Nations released photos of a grim-faced Gambari and an equally somber Suu Kyi shaking hands at Myanmar’s State Guest House.
    Gambari is expected to brief U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and the U.N. Security Council on Friday on the outcome of his trip, diplomats said.
    While the military government has said only 10 people were killed, dissident groups say up to 200 protesters were slain and 6,000 detained in the crackdown.
    Foreign governments have urged the junta to free Suu Kyi as well as the detainees, who include thousands of Buddhist monks who led the protests.
    In Geneva, the U.N. Human Rights Council condemned Myanmar’s actions and urged an immediate investigation of the situation.
    The 47-nation council said Tuesday it ‘‘strongly deplores continued violent repression of peaceful demonstrators in Myanmar, including through beatings, killings, arbitrary detentions and enforced disappearances.’’
    Swedish diplomat Johan Hallenborg, who witnessed last week’s crackdown, told the council the Myanmar government was arresting monks and civilians ‘‘under the most terrifying circumstances’’ and was ‘‘trying to instill complete and utter fear in yet another generation of citizens.’’
    In Myanmar’s main city of Yangon, residents launched a new form of dissent, switching off their lights and TV sets for 15 minutes during the nightly government newscast starting at 8 p.m.
    The ‘‘silent protest’’ began Monday and continued Tuesday, even when state television showed pictures of the Gambari-Than Shwe meeting, which included Deputy Senior Gen. Maung Aye, the No. 2 leader, and two other top generals.
    The military has ruled Myanmar since 1962, and the current junta came to power in 1988 after crushing a much larger pro-democracy movement in which at least 3,000 people were killed. The generals called elections in 1990 but refused to give up power when Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy party won.
    Simmering anger against the junta exploded in mid-August after it raised fuel prices as much as 500 percent, a crushing burden in the impoverished nation. The marches soon grew into pro-democracy demonstrations led by the revered monks.
    Among those killed when troops opened fire on unarmed demonstrators last week in Yangon was Japanese television cameraman Kenji Nagai of the APF news agency.
    On Tuesday, the head of APF, Toru Yamaji, laid white chrysanthemums at the site where Nagai was gunned down and then he knelt and prayed.
    Thousands of monks were still in detention, reportedly held in makeshift prisons around Yangon. It was clear, however, that the people were still looking to them to lead the democracy protests.
    In the town of Bago, residents began refusing to donate food to the Kha Khat Waing monastery because the abbot blocked 1,020 monks from joining the democracy protests.
    Soldiers erected barbed wire around the monastery, 40 miles northeast of Yangon, to prevent angry villagers from attacking the monks.
    ‘‘If the monks fear the soldiers, the people will buy sarongs and powder for them to wear,’’ a monastery guide told a visitor Tuesday, referring to items used only by women.
    Residents in the second-largest city of Mandalay were equally angry at the abbot of the Masoe Yeain monastery.
    ‘‘People have come to believe that the junta has sort of bought off the abbots of major monasteries to prevent junior monks from protesting,’’ a resident told The Associated Press by telephone.
    At a Buddhist shrine in downtown Yangon, Burmese men in traditional clothes prayed and touched their foreheads on the ground. Two dozen soldiers patrolled outside but there were no barricades along the street.
    ‘‘I don’t believe the protests have been totally crushed,’’ said Kin, a 29-year-old language teacher in Yangon whose father and brother joined the 1988 protests. ‘‘We are a prayerful people. ... The monks’ influence can’t be written off.’’
    She noted how much the junta’s crackdown in 1988 still affects Myanmar’s democracy movement, saying that many protest leaders arrested then are still missing.
    ‘‘There is hope, but we fear to hope,’’ she said. ‘‘We still dream of rearing our children in a country where everybody would have equal chances at opportunities ... I hope Gambari and the ASEAN can help us.’’
    ASEAN, the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, of which Myanmar is a member, last week issued its harshest condemnation of the junta, calling the crackdown ‘‘repulsive.’’

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