Saturday, May 16, 2009

LEAD: Obama extends U.S. sanctions on Myanmar


President Barack Obama extended U.S. sanctions on Myanmar's military junta Friday as its new crackdown on pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi triggered broadsides from around the world.

He revealed the extension in a letter to Congress, saying Myanmar's behavior continues to stand in the way of U.S. interests.

"The crisis between the United States and Burma...has not been resolved," Obama said, referring to the country by its previous name.

"These actions and policies are hostile to U.S. interests," he said. "For this reason, I have determined that it is necessary to...maintain in force the sanctions against Burma to respond to this threat."

The United States first imposed sanctions on Myanmar's military junta in 1997 and renewed them several times in view of its repression of democracy activists.

The extension of the sanctions came as Secretary of State Hillary Clinton urged the junta Thursday to immediately release Suu Kyi from detention after she was charged in court in connection with the entry of a man from the United States into her home last week.

Suu Kyi, a Nobel peace laureate, has been under house arrest for more than 12 of the past 20 years, with the junta repeatedly extending her detention.

She led her National League for Democracy party to victory in 1990 but the junta never allowed the election to stand.

"I am deeply troubled by the Burmese government's decision to charge Aung San Suu Kyi for a baseless crime," Clinton told reporters Thursday.

"We call on the Burmese authorities to release her immediately and unconditionally, along with her doctor and the more than 2,100 political prisoners currently being held," she said.

Two key U.S. lawmakers are also urging the junta to release Suu Kyi.

"Aung San Suu Kyi has devoted her life to the peaceful struggle for democracy and freedom for the Burmese people," said Howard Berman, chairman of the House Foreign Affairs Committee, and Ileana Ros- Lehtinen, the ranking member of the same committee.

"The military junta should immediately release her, allow greater political freedoms in the country, and respect the human rights of all of Burma's citizens," they said in a joint statement issued Thursday.

On Thursday, Myanmar authorities moved Suu Kyi from house arrest to prison and the junta charged her with violating the terms of her detention in an apparent effort to extend her detainment, which was to end May 27.

They charged Suu Kyi in connection with an incident last week in which a U.S. citizen is accused of swimming across a lake and sneaking into her house to visit her.

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