U.S. Envoy Hopes To Meet Myanmar Leader

YANGON, MYANMAR -- (AP) A U.N. envoy made a last-ditch effort to meet Myanmar's top military leader Monday, hoping to persuade him to accept the people's demands for democracy. On the streets, troops removed road blocks and appeared to ease their stranglehold on Yangon following the largest protests in two decades.

After days of intimidation that snuffed out the public demonstrations, soldiers and riot police redeployed from the city center to the outskirts Monday, but were still checking cars and buses, and monitoring the city by helicopter.

Traffic was still light and most shops remained closed. Some monks were allowed to leave monasteries to collect food donations, watched by soldiers lounging under trees.

"It's outwardly quite normal at the moment. The traffic seems to be flowing, there's a lot of military tucked away in less visible locations," said British Ambassador Mark Canning. "They've obviously for the moment squeezed things off the streets."

Public anger, which ignited Aug. 19 after the government hiked fuel prices, turned into mass protests against 45 years of military dictatorship when Buddhist monks joined in. Soldiers responded last week by opening fire on unarmed demonstrators, killing at least 10 people by the government's account. Dissident groups say at least 200 people may have died.

On Monday, Shwedagon and Sule pagodas, the two main flash points of the unrest, were reopened, but there were few visitors.

Monks appeared to be paying a heavy price for their role in spearheading the demonstrations.

An Asian diplomat said Monday all the arrested monks were defrocked _ stripped of their highly revered status and made to wear civilian clothes. Some of them are likely to face long jail terms, the diplomat said on condition of anonymity, citing protocol.

A resident, who identified himself as Ko Hla, wrote on his Internet blog that the monks arrested for staging protests are being detained in a race course. "They are forced to squat down as prisoners under the sun during the day time and are forced to change into civilian clothes," he wrote.

It was not possible to confirm the report within the highly restricted country.

"What the government is doing is very bad, especially beating up the monks," said a grocer who did not wish to be identified further for fear of reprisals. He said it is unlikely the people will protest again in such large numbers again. "I think it is over now."

In Mandalay, Myanmar's second largest city, security forces arrested dozens of university students who staged a street protest on Sunday, a witness said.

The government's mouthpiece newspaper, meanwhile, said foreigners were partly to blame for the crisis that has engulfed the country.

"Internal and external destructionists are applying various means to destroy those constructive endeavors by the government and the people and to cause unrest and instability," the New Light of Myanmar said.

It said 11 people were arrested over the weekend in two separate demonstrations, several of them university students.

Some were carrying identification cards for studying English at the U.S. Embassy's American Center in Yangon, the paper said, adding that "weapons" seized included five slingshots and marbles, a pair of scissors and one sharp iron rod.

Hoping to end the crisis, the U.N. sent its special envoy, Ibrahim Gambari, to Myanmar Saturday.

He spent the weekend in talks and in transit, pressing ahead with shuttle diplomacy even after his first meeting with the junta did not include its leader, Senior Gen. Than Shwe, or his deputy, Gen. Maung Aye. He also met with pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi in Yangon.

Gambari returned to Myanmar's isolated capital of Naypyitaw for a second time in hopes of meeting Than Shwe on Monday. But by late afternoon there was still no word from the capital about any meeting.

The junta, which has rebuffed scres of previous U.N. attempts at promoting democracy, did not comment on the envoy's mission.

Gambari 's hour-long talk with Suu Kyi on Sunday was unexpected _ he did not know before he arrived if he would be allowed to meet the 1991 Nobel Peace prize winner who has come to symbolize the struggle for democracy in Myanmar. She has spent nearly 12 of the last 18 years under house arrest.

Suu Kyi' National League for Democracy party was not optimistic Gambari would yield any influence over the junta leaders.

The junta has never responded well to international pressure in the past. But its desire for oil and gas investment, increased tourism and its status as a member of the Association of Southeast Asian Nations means it cannot follow a completely isolated path, as it has in the past.

"I do think a number of underlying dynamics have changed quite fundamentally and make us more hopeful that something might happen," said Canning, the British ambassador.

The crackdown in Myanmar has riveted the globe, with foreign governments from Asia, to North America to Europe calling on the junta to find a peaceful end to the crisis.

ASEAN, the 10-member bloc that includes Myanmar, wrote a letter to Than Shwe on Monday expressing revulsion at the violent repression of demonstrators.

The military rulers have sought to limit news coming out of Myanmar, with public Internet access restricted and mobile phone service sporadic for a fourth day in a row.

Soldiers have gone to hotels in search of foreign journalists operating without permission. At least four local journalists have been arrested and others have been detained or harassed, Reporters Without Borders and Burma Media Association said in a statement.

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CBS and Associated Press contributed to this report.