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What's Good for Burma

As they hint ominously of cracking down on democrat Aung San Suu Kyi, Burma's military rulers fall back on the tyrant's tired argument against liberty: "What is good in other countries cannot be good in our country."

Those were the words used recently by Burma's foreign minister, U Ohn Gyaw, to explain how his government could "respect the norms and ideals of human rights" but tightly restrict their exercise.

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Burma's leaders, the men of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), have of late turned up the volume on their campaign to discredit the movement headed by Ms. Suu Kyi. Predictably, they now accuse her and other members of the National League for Democracy of being the stooges of foreigners who want to impose their will on Burma (now officially named Myanmar).

In fact, it's SLORC that is imposing its will against the clearly expressed wishes of the Burmese majority, which in 1990 gave 85 percent of its vote to Suu Kyi's party - an outcome the generals promptly nullified. They cast themselves as the defenders of Burmese character and culture, but disparage the Burmese people by denying the right of self government.

Democracy takes on different cultural and institutional hues in different parts of the world. One model does not fit all. But certain fundamentals are universal: free speech, free assembly, the franchise, among them. They are good anywhere, Burma included.

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