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EU, US condemn Myanmar violence

(BRUSSELS) - The European Union and the United States on Wednesday called on the Myanmar authorities to stop using violence to quell peaceful protests in Yangon, in a joint statement released in Brussels.

"The European Union and the United States express their solidarity with the people of Burma/Myanmar," said the statement, agreed following a meeting in New York between EU foreign ministers and US Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice.

"We are deeply troubled by reports that security forces have fired on and attacked peaceful demonstrators and arrested many Buddhist monks and others.

"We call on the authorities to stop violence and to open a process of dialogue with pro-democracy leaders including (opposition leader) Aung San Suu Kyi and representatives of ethnic minorities.

"We urge China, India, ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) and others in the region to use their influence in support of the people of Burma/Myanmar."

The EU and the US called on the UN Security Council, due to meet Wednesday, to "discuss this situation urgently and consider further steps including sanctions."

The Europeans -- France and Britain are permanent Security Council members -- and their American allies, who have already announced tougher sanctions against the Myanmar junta, will meet up there with fellow permanent members China, a close ally of Myanmar, and Russia, which on Wednesday described the events there as an "internal matter".

Myanmar security forces used batons, tear gas and live rounds Wednesday in a violent crackdown on mass protests against the military junta, killing at least four people including three Buddhist monks.

This week's protests in Yangon are the biggest public show of dissent since student-led rallies in 1988 were brutally repressed with hundreds, if not thousands, of lives lost.

EU External Relations Commissioner Benita Ferrero-Waldner, also in New York, said she supported the process started at the United Nations, with a discussion on Myanmar at the Security Council on Wednesday.

"We need to mobilize Myanmar's immediate neighbours to join our call for restraint of the regime and for a genuine political dialogue, including full respect for human rights," she said.

"The EU and the US have agreed to consider further steps against the regime in Burma/Myanmar including sanctions if deemed necessary," Ferrero-Waldner added.

Portuguese Foreign Minister Manuel Lobo Antunes, giving a speech at the European parliament in Strasbourg, also spoke of the need for Western nations to involve China, India and ASEAN nations to take action.

"We are pushing all these countries to have a dialogue with the regime on many issues," he said.

At the same event, European Development Commissioner Louis Michel told the eurodeputies that China must be persuaded to help "but also India, Japan and South Korea".

Since the demonstrations began in Myanmar, ASEAN -- which includes Thailand, Indonesia, Malaysia, the Philippines, Singapore, Vietnam, Brunei, Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar itself -- has been mute on the subject.

The European Union, which already has tough sanctions in place against the Myanmar regime, was meanwhile preparing to ratchet them up further in light of the crackdown there.

Asia experts from the 27 EU nations met in Brussels to consider what tools are available

EU ambassadors will continue the work on Thursday.

Under the existing sanctions, 375 people, members of the junta and their families, are banned from entering the European Union and are subject to an asset freeze.

Arms and trade embargoes are also in place.

The Europeans realise that whatever actions they take will not have spectacular, immediate effects on what is already one of the most isolated nations in the world.

"The sanctions are already pretty strong," said one European official.

"We can't expect that sanction changes alone are going to persuade the authorities not to use force," he added.

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