Anti-muslim rhetoric in Myanmar stokes flames of hatred


A Muslim gathering in a small Myanmar town has been canceled due to a protest from a Buddhist nationalist group -- the second such disturbance in the country this month. The event due to be held in the town of Pyay in Bago region, around 440 kilometers northwest of Myanmar's former capital Yangon, was canceled last minute after a Yangon-based nationalist group pressured local authorities and Muslim residents, the Irrawaddy online magazine reported. Anti-Muslim rhetoric from the group has been seen as deliberately stoking the flames of religious hatred in the predominantly Buddhist country.

The report said authorities had permitted the ceremony scheduled to be held for at least three hours Sunday to last 30 minutes after negotiations Saturday with the nationalist group and Muslim residents. The hardline Buddhist nationalists, however, later demanded that the ceremony be called off entirely.

"We have had the ceremony every year peacefully," Kyaw Naing, a member of the festival organizing committee, was quoted by the magazine as saying.

He underlined that the Muslim community agreed to cancel their ceremony over the protest to demonstrate that Islam is a religion of peace for the people of Myanmar as well as across the world. "Authority actually already granted permission to us for the ceremony," he said. The incident marked the second time this month that Buddhist hardliners impeded a Muslim gathering.

On Jan. 8, a crowd including hardline Buddhist monks who many blame for a rise in persecution of Muslims in Myanmar disturbed a religious service in Yangon's Botataung Township, accusing the worshipers of holding it without the approval of local authorities.

Reports of rapes and killings of the Rohingya minority in Myanmar has increased, although the government was insultingly dismissing the claims and making the situation worse, the U.N. human rights office said.

Security has deteriorated sharply in Myanmar's northwestern Rakhine State, home to many Rohingyas, since attacks on security posts near the border with Bangladesh on Oct. 9 in 2016 in which nine police officers were killed.

The government of predominantly Buddhist Myanmar has blamed militants overseas for the attacks and poured troops into the region. Rights groups and residents say widespread abuses have occurred during the Myanmar military operation over the weeks since then.In Myanmar, Rohingyas face fundamental rights abuses. Myanmar's nationality law, approved in 1982, denies Rohingya citizenship. According to the law, foreigners cannot become naturalized citizens of Myanmar unless they can prove a close familial connection to the country. Rohingyas are not recognized among the 134 official ethnicities in Myanmar because authorities see them as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They are subjected to forced labor, have no land rights and are heavily restricted by the government. They have no permission to leave the camps built for them, have no source of income and have to rely on the World Food Program to survive.

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