Page last updated at 16:28 GMT, Friday, 14 November 2008

Burma court jails more protesters

Monks protest in Rangoon (Sept 2007)
Last year's protests posed a major challenge to the military junta

At least 11 more Burmese activists have received jail sentences for taking part in anti-government protests last year.

It brings the total number sentenced this week to more than 60.

A special court set up by the military government handed out jail terms of up to nine-and-a-half years to activists, mainly from the opposition NLD party.

Fourteen student leaders were given 65-year sentences earlier this week and monks and labour activists have also been given long spells in prison.

It is unclear why the authorities have acted against the opposition now.

However, human rights groups say the government is intensifying efforts to curb dissent ahead of elections in 2010.

The exact numbers of those who have been jailed is also unclear as no official figures have been released by the government.

Nyan Win, a spokesman for the National League for Democracy (NLD) which is led by Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, said that on Thursday four monks were each jailed for eight years.

He said that 11 NLD members from Rangoon were jailed for seven-and-a-half years each and another three were given sentences of four to 10 years.

Dialogue call

On Tuesday, five monks were jailed for six-and-a-half years and at least 23 activists were each sentenced to 65 years in prison.

Burma's military leader Than Shwe
One of those jailed wrote a coded criticism of junta leader Than Shwe

Fourteen of those are former students who were members of the "88 Generation", which led a major uprising 20 years ago that the military regime also suppressed.

A leading blogger and a poet who wrote a coded criticism of junta leader Than Shwe were among six people sentenced to up to 20 years in jail on Monday.

The protests in August last year began as small rallies against the rising cost of living.

However, they escalated into huge protests led by Buddhist monks that posed the biggest threat to the junta's rule in nearly two decades.

At least 31 people died when security forces cracked down on the protesters, according to the UN. Human rights groups say that hundreds more activists remain in jail.

The US led Western condemnation of the sentences on Wednesday and called for the regime's leaders to begin "a genuine dialogue" with opposition groups.

UN Secretary General Ban Ki-moon called for the release of all political prisoners in Burma, saying they should be allowed to take part in a national reconciliation process.

The junta says that it will hold elections in 2010 as part of its "road map to democracy".

But opposition figures and governments, including the European Union, say the elections will be meaningless if much of the opposition is behind bars.

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