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Will Burma (Myanmar) let world in for aid?

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State officials confirmed on Tuesday night that 22,000 people were killed by the cyclone, with 41,000 missing, a drastic increase that made the disaster the worst to hit Asia since the 2004 tsunami, which left some 230,000 people dead.

Other reports suggested that Saturday's death toll would rise significantly. Already, it has escalated quickly: from 351 on Saturday, to 4,000 on Monday morning, to 10,000 that night. By Tuesday morning, state-run television stated that 10,000 people alone had been killed in the town of Bogalay.

Speaking from a phone on the Thai-Burmese border Tuesday, Nyo Myint, of the National League for Democracy party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, says the death toll, calculated by reports from party sources across southern Burma, is more than 100,000.

International relief agencies reported that, with phone and Internet lines down and roads washed away, merely assessing the damage would be difficult at best, let alone dispensing aid.

"The major challenge is to figure out an exact assessment of the damage," says Jennifer Pagonis, a spokesperson for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Geneva.

The disaster is compelling one of the world's most secretive and isolated regimes to swing open its doors to the international community. At a meeting with foreign diplomats on Monday, Burma's foreign minister Nyan Win appealed for international aid – a dramatic political reversal from 2004, when the junta rejected such assistance after the devastating tsunami.

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