Hundreds of Myanmar monks took to the streets Tuesday in a violence-torn western state to protest against local Muslims and against violence targeting Buddhists in neighbouring Bangladesh.
Flanked by police and hundreds of onlookers, maroon-robed clerics demonstrated outside the Bangladesh consulate in the Rakhine state capital Sittwe chanting “Stop insulting Buddhism” and “No need for violence”, according to a witness.
Some held banners that read “Kalars get out” as they marched through the city, one of several Rakhine areas racked by deadly unrest between Buddhists and Muslims. Kalar is a derogatory term for Muslims.
Around 400 clerics took part in the rally, watched by more than 1,000 local people, according to a police officer in Sittwe.
“The monks marched peacefully. Security has also been increased here,” he told AFP by telephone.
Sectarian tensions are running high in Rakhine following clashes between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya which erupted in June, leaving dozens dead and forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge in temporary shelters.
The state remains under emergency rule and while the protest was not thought to had been officially sanctioned, authorities did not prevent the monks from marching.
Protesters called for the expulsion of a Muslim-majority community from the city and for Bangledesh to do more to protect Buddhists.
Leading monk Pyinnya Zaw Ta said an open letter would be read out “to call on the Bangladeshi government to give full security to the Buddhist minority inside their country”.
Bangladesh police said last week they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence in the southeast of the country in which Buddhist temples and homes were damaged and set on fire.
The monks also protested against the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC) opening an office anywhere in Myanmar.
Members of the OIC toured Rakhine state last month, after accusations from rights groups that security forces had opened fire on Muslim Rohingya during the unrest prompted concern across the Islamic world.
Speaking a dialect similar to one in neighbouring Bangladesh, the estimated 800,000 stateless Rohingya in Myanmar are seen by the government and many in the country as illegal immigrants.