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Page last updated at 13:29 GMT, Thursday, 7 August 2008 14:29 UK

Burma comic charged over aid runs

Zarganar pictured last year
Zarganar has served time in jail before

One of Burma's most popular comedians has been charged with several offences, after he defied the military by giving aid to the victims of Cyclone Nargis.

Zarganar faces charges including creating public unrest and unlawful association for his activities during the disaster, his relatives said.

He appeared at a special court in Rangoon's notorious Insein Jail.

The move came one day before Burmese dissidents plan to mark 20 years since nationwide pro-democracy protests.

Six weeks of rallies - which became known as the 8/8/88 protests - were eventually brutally suppressed by the military.

At least 3,000 civilians were killed as the military tightened its grip on power.

'Lost hope'

Many Burmese who have fled the nation plan to hold protests to commemorate those who died.

But there is unlikely to be much dissent in Burma itself.

Burmese soldiers face protesters in Rangoon on 26 August 1988

"I've totally lost hope that change will come through mass protests," Min Aung, a dissident in Rangoon, told the Associated Press.

"It's difficult to organise protests now because most of the leaders are in jail or in hiding."

Meanwhile, US President George W Bush and his wife, Laura, both delivered speeches criticising the Burmese junta.

Speaking in Thailand, the president called for an "end to tyranny", while Mrs Bush appealed for reform to allow thousands of dissidents to return home.

Critical interviews

Zarganar appeared at the special court along with three others.

He fell foul of the regime when he began delivering aid to victims of Cyclone Nargis in June.

The generals had insisted that all aid be delivered by the military - but there were widespread reports that badly needed supplies were being siphoned off by soldiers.

Zarganar also gave media interviews criticising the response to the catastrophe.

The Irrawaddy, a magazine run by Burmese dissidents, reported that the authorities raided his home on 4 June and seized a computer and about $1,000 (514) collected for victims of the cyclone.

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