Nationalists Prepare for Protest Against Religious Affairs Minister

By Zarni Mann 19 May 2017

MANDALAY — Nationalists claiming Burma’s government is failing to support Buddhism began traveling to the country’s capital of Naypyidaw on Friday to voice their anger against the religious minister.

Organizers said about 30,000 people, including monks and nationalists from Mandalay, Rangoon, and Irrawaddy divisions, will join the protest on Shwe Nantha field in Ottara Thiri Township against the Union Minister for Religious Affairs and Culture, U Aung Ko.

Naypyidaw’s general administration office stated, however, that the organizers have requested a protest of up to 15,000, and the authorities have allowed only 300.

“Buddhism is the major religion of the country and the religious affairs ministry must protect, support and encourage the Sasana [Buddhist mission]. It was clearly stated in the Constitution,” said U Eain Daw Bar Tha, one of the leaders of the Nationalist Buddhist Monks Organization in Mandalay.

“However, Thura U Aung Ko fails to do this and repeatedly upsets the Buddhists of the country. That’s why we’re going to express our dislike of the minister,” he added.

The monk cited Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s speech marking the one-year anniversary of the National League for Democracy (NLD) government in which she said the party would be “ready to step aside” if people are dissatisfied with the leadership.

“We believe the government will keep their promises after seeing our objection to Thura U Aung Ko,” said U Eain Daw Bar Tha. “After the protest, we will wait and see the government’s reaction. It is too early to say what we will do next.”

U Aye Thaung, officer of Ottara district, told The Irrawaddy that local authorities would take legal action against the organizers if the protest exceeded more than 300 people.

‘The local authorities will stop them in accordance with the Peaceful Assembly Act if they do not follow the permitted numbers,” said the officer.

The planned protest follows an arrest warrant for seven nationalists and Buddhist monks last week who were involved in a recent confrontation between Buddhists and Muslims in Rangoon’s Mingalar Taung Nyunt Township. They have been charged with incitement to commit violence.