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U.S. President George W. Bush addresses the 62nd session of the United Nations General Assembly in New York on Tuesday. ((Ed Betz/Associated Press))

The United States is "outraged" by human rights abuses committed by Myanmar's ruling junta and will tighten sanctions against the regime's leaders and their financial backers, U.S. President George W. Bush said Tuesday in a speech to the United Nations.

"The ruling junta remains unyielding, but the people's desire for freedom is unmistakable," Bush said in a wide-ranging speech marking the beginning of the UN General Assembly's 62nd formal session. "Americans are outraged by the situation in Burma," he said.

Bush said the U.S. will impose an expanded visa ban on those responsible for the most egregious human rights violations in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, where Buddhist monks, students and other activists have defied threats of the military and staged anti-government protests for the ninth straight day.

He accused the junta of imposing a "19-year reign of fear" in which he said forced child labour, human trafficking and rape are "common."

During his 15-minute address in New York, Bush also offered sharp criticism for the "brutal" regimes of Belarus, North Korea, Syria and Iran, but saved his most severe condemnation for the United States's longtime adversary, ailing Cuban leader Fidel Castro.

"In Cuba, the long reign of a cruel dictator is nearing its end," Bush said, prompting the Cuban UN delegation to leave the floor of the General Assembly in protest.

Bush also urged other countries to support the struggle for democracy in Afghanistan, Iraq and Lebanon, saying the countries' citizens have "made the choice for democracy."

"Terrorists have tried to destroy them," he said. "This is not a show of strength; it is evidence of fear."

He also urged the speedy deployment of a hybrid UN-African Union peacekeeping force to Sudan's Darfur region, which has been stalled for several months by the Sudanese government despite an agreement reached with the Security Council in June.

Sarkozy urges unityagainst Iran

In his address to the assembly, French President Nicolas Sarkozywarned of the dangers of Iran as a potential nuclear power, saying the international communityhad a responsibility to confront those who "threaten the fragile balance of peace."

"If we allow Iran to acquire nuclear weapons, we would incur an unacceptable risk to the stability of the region and the stability of the world," Sarkozy said. "Weakness and renunciation do not lead to peace. They lead to war."

The international community has condemned Iran for its human rights record andthecontinuation of its nuclear research program in the face of UN Security Council sanctions.

The General Assembly will also hearlater Tuesdayfrom IranianPresidentMahmoud Ahmadinejad, who in the pasthasreferred to the Holocaust as a "myth" and said Israel should be "wiped out."

Ahmadinejad was labelled"a petty and cruel dictator"during acontroversial appearance Monday at Columbia University in New York, in which he said he was advocating academic discussion of the Holocaust as a historical event.

During hisspeech and handling ofstudents' pointedquestions, thehardline Iranian leader alsoasserted his country's nuclear program was for peaceful purposes and dismissedcriticism over Iran's treatment ofwomen, political dissidents and homosexuals.