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Series of anti-‘Rohingya’ protests planned in Myanmar

Kyaw Ye Lynn
Anadolu Agency
May 18, 2016

Nationalists plan rallies in major cities, demanding government denounce use of word to describe stateless Muslim minority

YANGON, Myanmar -- Myanmar nationalists announced Wednesday that a series of protests were planned across major cities to demand that the government declare that there is no Rohingya ethnicity in the country.

The demonstrations are aimed at pressuring President Htin Kyaw and state counselor-cum-foreign minister Aung San Suu Kyi to denounce the United States embassy for using the word to describe the stateless and persecuted Muslim minority.

Monks from hardline Buddhist group Ma Ba Tha -- the Committee for Protection of Race and Religion -- are among the nationalists set to gather Wednesday for a rally in coastal Ayeyarwady Division’s capital.

Yin Lay, an organizer of the protest in Pathein, told Anadolu Agency, “we would demand that the authority, especially Daw Aung San Suu Kyi, clearly say Rohingya would never be accepted as one of Myanmar’s ethnic groups.”

Daw, meaning "aunt", is not part of Suu Kyi's name but is a Myanmar honorific for anyone older or revered.

Win Ko Ko Latt of the Yangon-based Myanmar National Network, who has been organizing protests since the U.S. embassy used “Rohingya” in a statement last month said Wednesday, “this is the first of many protests planned in major cities.”

On April 28, around 500 Buddhist nationalists staged an unauthorized demonstration outside the embassy in Yangon to protest the use of the term to describe the minority.

Such nationalists refuse to recognize the term, instead referring to the Muslim ethnic group as "Bengali", which suggests they are illegal immigrants from neighboring country Bangladesh.

The embassy used the term in a recent statement to illustrate its concerns about the situation in western Rakhine State, where communal violence between ethnic Buddhists and Muslims since 2012 has left dozens dead, around 100,000 people displaced in camps and more than 2,500 houses burned -- most of which belonged to Rohingya.

Following nationalist pressure, Suu Kyi’s foreign ministry asked the embassy to cease use of the word.

The U.S. ambassador to Myanmar, however, said last week that he was in favor of continued use of Rohingya.

Several hundred nationalist protesters at an unauthorized May 13 demonstration in Mandalay -- the country’s second largest city -- had called on the government to declare within three days that there is no Rohingya ethnicity in the country.

The government of Myanmar, however, has not yet responded to the protesters’ demand.

Win Ko Ko Latt told Anadolu Agency on Wednesday that the next protest was planned for Sunday in Taunggyi, the capital of restive eastern Shan state.

“We also plan the protests in Yangon on Sunday when U.S. Secretary of Sate John Kerry visits the country,” he said by phone.

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