Hundreds of Buddhist monks in northern Burma’s Mandalay city defied authorities by leading street protests against minority Muslim Rohingyas for the third consecutive day on Tuesday.
They staged a march to back President Thein Sein's suggestion that the Rohingyas be deported even though the authorities had asked organizers of a similar protest on Sunday which attracted several thousands to stop the demonstrations.
Burma does not recognize the Rohingya as one of its ethnic groups, considering them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. The U.N. says some 800,000 Rohingyas live in Burma and that the group is one of the world’s most persecuted minorities.
Some 300 monks, joined by Mandalay residents, gathered in front of Mya Taung Monastery in northern Burma’s city of Mandalay on Tuesday before marching to the downtown Zaycho area around noon.
Monk Ashin Kawmala of the Mahamuni monastery told RFA that Tuesday’s protest was an important way for the monks, who are not allowed to vote, to act as a political force.
"We monks in Burma do not have the right to vote, and it is not right that [we] do not have the right to do anything at all. None of the NGOs [nongovernmental organizations] in the world is larger than the Buddhist community. So we came to demonstrate to express that."
Crowd control concerns
On Sunday, thousands of monks and residents—led by former political prisoner Ashin Wirathu, a monk from Mandalay’s Masoeyein Monastery—marched in support of Thein Sein’s call to the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR to deport the Rohingyas.
Sunday’s rally was the biggest protest since the monk-led Saffron Revolution in 2007, which was brutally crushed by the country's then military leaders.
Wirathu held the protest with permission from the authorities, which later said the demonstrations cannot continue due to crowd control concerns.
Under the protest permit, the authorities did not allow a large number of residents to accompany the monks amid security concerns.
“It is not allowed anymore. They said if we can't stop monks [outside our group] and people who are following our protest, they have to revoke the permission,” he told RFA Tuesday.
He said that since the protests were in support of the president’s stance on the Rohingya minority, revoking the permission for the protests was an indication of how restricted Burma’s political atmosphere is despite nascent reforms.
“Democracy is not fully practiced in our country yet. We can't even support the president freely,” he said, adding that they had followed the rules authorities had laid out for the protest.
"This showed that we do not have the right even to peacefully express our desire.”
He added that he believed the orders to stop the protests had come from local authorities, including the township police chief and governor, rather than from President Thein Sein’s government in Naypyidaw.
This week’s protests came about three months after ethnic violence erupted between the Rohingyas and ethnic Buddhists in western Burma’s Rakhine state that left scores of people dead and tens of thousands displaced.
Monks who protested on Tuesday shouted slogans and carried banners reading, "Protect Our Motherland,” “Protect Rakhine State,” and “This is Our Land.”
Thein Sein’s call to deport the Rohingyas, who have lived in Burma for generations, was swiftly rejected by the UNHCR.
No arrests have been made over the protests so far.
This is not the first time the people of Mandalay have staged protests to gain the attention of the authorities.
In May, as many as 1,000 Mandalay residents gathered for a candlelit protest against severe power shortages, testing for the first time the tolerance of Thein Sein’s nominally civilian government which took over from the military junta in March of last year.
Reported by Kyaw Kyaw Aung and San Oo for RFA’s Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Rachel Vandenbrink.