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Bush: U.S. to tighten sanctions on Myanmar

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NEW YORK (CNN) -- President Bush told the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday that the U.S. will tighten existing economic sanctions on Myanmar, citing a series of "the most egregious violations of human rights."

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President Bush addresses the U.N. General Assembly in New York on Tuesday.

In Myanmar, the military government "has imposed a 19-year reign of fear," including persecution of ethnic minorities, child labor, human trafficking and the snuffing out of freedoms of speech, assembly and worship, Bush said.

"The regime is holding more than 1,000 political prisoners," Bush said, including Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and reformist leader whose National League for Democracy Party won power in 1990. Myanmar's military leaders, who have been at the helm since the 1960s, refused to honor the results.

Despite the government's totalitarian behavior, Bush said "the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable."

The U.S. will move to tighten sanctions on the military government and its financial backers, including visa bans on those responsible for human rights violations, Bush said. He further urged the U.N. member nations to apply "diplomatic and economic leverage to help the Burmese people reclaim their freedom."

Burma is the traditional name for Myanmar. The Asian nation is presently the site of massive protests led by tens of thousands of Buddhist monks pushing for democracy.

Freedom was the focus of Bush's Tuesday address, as he asked the U.N. General Assembly to "join in the mission of liberation."

"The best way to defeat extremists is to defeat their dark ideology with a more hopeful vision, a vision of liberty," he said, lauding the Universal Declaration of Human Rights adopted by the General Assembly in 1948.

The declaration involves "confronting long term threats" and "answering the immediate needs of today," Bush said.

"The nations in this chamber have our differences, yet there are some areas where we can all agree," Bush said. "When innocent people are trapped in a life of murder and fear, the declaration is not being upheld."

Nations like Ukraine, Georgia, Kyrgyzstan, Mauritania, Liberia, Sierra Leone and Morocco are making strides toward liberty, Bush said. People in Lebanon, Afghanistan and Iraq have welcomed democracy, he said, "yet the extremists have responded by targeting them for murder.'

Bush also pressed U.N. members to back the moderate leaders of the Palestinian territories "so that we can advance the vision of two democratic states, Israel and Palestine, living side by side in peace and security."

The president pointed to Syria, Iran, North Korea, Belarus, Venezuela, Cuba, Sudan and Zimbabwe as nations where freedom has failed to flourish.

In Zimbabwe, the economy has so crumbled under the regime of President Robert Mugabe that an animal rights group reported earlier this month that pets were being slaughtered for meat. In western Sudan's Darfur region, about 200,000 people have been killed and more than 2 million displaced by fighting between rebel and government forces.

In Sudan, Bush said, "The United Nations must answer this challenge to conscience and live up to its promise to promptly deploy peacekeeping forces to Darfur."

The president also said nations must unite to combat the ills of hunger, AIDS and malaria, and said the United States has already committed $30 billion to the fight against AIDS and $1.2 billion to a malaria initiative.

He added that trade and investment -- rather than foreign aid -- were the best means of fighting poverty in the world.

"A nation that is open in trading with the world will create economic rewards that far exceed anything they could get through foreign aid," he said. "Open markets ignite growth, encourage investment, increase transparency, strengthen the rule of law and help countries help themselves."

One initiative the president is pushing involves purchasing "the crops of local farmers in Africa and elsewhere, rather than shipping in food from the developed world. This would help build up local agriculture and break the cycle of famine in the developing world."

Bush did not address Iran despite President Mahmoud Ahmadinejad dominating headlines in the days leading up to the event.

Ahmadinejad was expected to deliver a speech later in the afternoon.

The leader of the Islamic republic, who has questioned Israel's right to exist and defended his nation's right to nuclear technology, has said in recent days that Iran has no homosexuals, Americans are denied accurate information about the world and there is little evidence to support the Holocaust.

Ahmadinejad also caused a stir by proposing to lay a wreath at the site of the World Trade Center attacks, a request New York City officials denied.

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"We talk about Iran constantly," White House spokeswoman Dana Perino said before Bush's speech, explaining that the president wanted to focus on other issues, especially those affecting Africa. Video Watch highlights from past U.N. speeches »

Also expected to speak before the U.N. General Assembly on Tuesday are French President Nicolas Sarkozy, German Chancellor Angela Merkel, Afghan President Hamid Karzai and South African President Thabo Mbeki. E-mail to a friend E-mail to a friend

All About United NationsMahmoud AhmadinejadMyanmar

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