Buddhist monks and demonstrators amassed in Myanmar’s Rakhine state Sunday to protest the government’s decision to aid members of the nation’s Rohingya Muslim minority after they were trapped in the Bay of Bengal, according to a report. The protests were the latest sign of religious tension in Myanmar, where the Buddhist majority repeatedly has called on government officials to forcibly remove Rohingya, whom they see as a threat to Buddhism, from the country’s borders.
The demonstrations, which remained nonviolent, were held in 10 towns across Rakhine, Buddhist protest leader Aung Htay told Agence France-Presse. A protest in the state capital of Sittwe attracted approximately 500 Buddhists, a witness said.
Approximately 1.3 million Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar, with many living in camps in Rakhine state. Persecution of Muslims reportedly is widespread in the country and Rohingya are prohibited from obtaining citizenship. Myanmar’s government and many of its citizens refer to the Rohingya as “Bengalis,” in accordance with the perception that most members of the Muslim minority arrived in the country illegally from Bangladesh.
Thousands of Rohingya have attempted in recent years to escape persecution in Myanmar by sea. But recent efforts in nearby Thailand to prevent the exodus stranded approximately 6,500 would-be migrants at sea or on nearby shores. Authorities in Myanmar have rescued nearly 1,000 of these refugees, despite criticism from the Buddhist majority, AFP reports.
In February, Myanmar President Thein Sein stripped Rohingya Muslims of temporary voting rights after hundreds of Buddhists held protests against the measure, the BBC reported. Buddhist protest leaders accused politicians of granting the voting rights in a bid to gain political power.
The United Nations’ General Assembly passed a resolution in December in which it called on Myanmar’s government to grant citizenship to Rohingya Muslims and to investigate potential human rights abuses, Al Jazeera reported. Clashes between Buddhist hard-liners and Rohingya Muslims killed more than 200 people in 2012.