Burmese nationalists stage mass pro-military rally amid Rohingya persecution

Yangon: Over a thousand nationalist demonstrators took to the streets of Yangon on Sunday to march in support of Myanmar’s military at a time when the Southeast Asian country is in the spotlight for the ongoing violent persecution of the Rohingya people.

The rally converged outside the Yangon City Hall building, where controversial extremist Buddhist monk Ashin Wirathu – known for promoting hate speech against Rohingyas, the country’s Muslim ethnic minority – gave a speech before the thousand-strong crowd in which he condemned foreign involvement in Burmese affairs, Efe reported.

Myanmar’s armed forces, along with police officers, paramilitary groups and civilian mobs, started to crack down on the Rohingya living in the northwestern Rakhine State in late 2016.

Burmese authorities cited alleged attacks on police and troops by unidentified insurgents along the border with Bangladesh as the reason for the crackdown, although observers say the root causes of the conflict can be found in long-simmering tensions between Myanmar’s Buddhist majority and the much smaller Muslim community.

At least 700,000 Rohingya have fled Rakhine by sea or on foot over the past two years due to what the United Nations has described as a “textbook example of ethnic cleansing” and human rights groups have condemned as crimes against humanity.

Although the Rohingya have settled in the region since at least the 15th century AD, Myanmar does not consider them citizens, instead classifying them as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants.

Between 1988-2011, Myanmar – which was known by the colonial name Burma until 1989 – was ruled by a military junta accused of innumerable human rights violations and abuses.

After the so-called State Peace and Development Council was dissolved, the current nominally-civilian government took over, although the army continues to have a huge influence on Burmese politics and society.