Page last updated at 21:19 GMT, Thursday, 1 May 2008 22:19 UK

Bush unveils new Burma sanctions

US President George W Bush speaks in Washington on 1 May 2008
Mr Bush said the sanctions were "yet another clear message" to Burma

US President George W Bush has announced fresh sanctions against the military regime in Burma.

He said he had ordered the US Treasury to freeze the assets of state-owned firms in Burma "that are major sources of funds that prop up the junta".

Last October, Mr Bush asked the treasury to freeze the financial assets of members of the military regime.

The move followed a violent suppression of anti-government protests in Burma (Myanmar) led by Buddhist monks.

Failed sanctions?

In Washington, Mr Bush said his executive order targeted "companies in industries such as gems and timber that exploit the labour of the downtrodden Burmese people but enrich only the generals".

"I'm sending yet another clear message that we expect there to be change, that we expect these generals to honour the will of the people," he said.

The US has already imposed substantial trade, investment and diplomatic sanctions on the regime, freezing assets and imposing visa bans on senior generals and their families.

However, it is not clear what impact such measures will have, with critics arguing sanctions are largely ineffective.

In 2007, Washington's Cato Institute estimated that unilateral sanctions imposed by the US between 1970 and 1998 failed almost 90% of the time.

Constitutional referendum

Earlier this month, Burma's military rulers published their proposed new constitution, which critics say will cement their grip on power and weaken the opposition.

Burma's Chief Senior General Than Shwe. File photo
General Than Shwe and his colleagues rule the country with an iron fist

The junta says it will put the document to a national referendum on 10 May. It has also pledged to hold multi-party elections by 2010.

But the Irrawaddy website, which is critical of the junta, says the new rules enshrine the military's dominance of the political system.

Even if there are elections, the site says 56 military officers are guaranteed places in the 224-member lower house of parliament.

And 110 seats out of 440 in the upper house are reserved for the military.

A clause which bars anyone who has been married to a foreign national from holding political office is also drawing criticism.

Aung Sang Suu Kyi, the main opposition leader, was married to a British academic and is therefore disqualified.

Her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD), won a landslide victory in the country's last elections in 1990 - though the military never allowed them to form a government.

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