Thousands of monks took to the streets in Myanmar’s two main cities on Monday to protest against a world Islamic body’s attempts to help Muslim Rohingya in unrest-hit Rakhine state, organizers said.
Around 3,000 maroon-robed clerics, some shouting and holding banners reading “No OIC”, marched through downtown Yangon, according to an AFP photographer, in the latest rally against the Organization of the Islamic Conference.
Thousands more protested in the country’s second-largest city Mandalay and in a further demonstration in the town of Pakokku in Magway region in central Myanmar, according to organizers.
“We cannot accept any OIC office here,” Oattamathara, a monk leading the Mandalay protest, told AFP. He said demonstrators wanted clear assurances from government that the 57-member OIC would not be allowed to operate in the country.
Sectarian tensions are running high following Buddhist-Rohingya clashes in June in western Rakhine which left dozens of people dead and forced tens of thousands more to seek refuge in temporary shelters.
Monks were at the vanguard of a 2007 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the former junta. They have been involved in a series of protests against the OIC and Myanmar’s 800,000 stateless Rohingya, who are described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Members of the OIC, the top world Muslim body, toured Rakhine last month after accusations from rights groups that security forces opened fire on Rohingya during the sectarian unrest, prompting concern across the Islamic world.
Myanmar’s Rohingya, who speak a dialect similar to one in neighboring Bangladesh, are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants.
The tensions in Rakhine have spread to neighboring Bangladesh, where police said recently they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence targeting Buddhist homes and temples.