Around 500 people, backed by dozens of monks, gathered under heavy rain on Sunday 14 June in the Arakan State capital of Sittwe chanting slogans, a witness who joined the protest told AFP by phone. The protest finished some two hours later.
The witness’ account was confirmed by a protest leader who said simultaneous demonstrations would take place in 10 townships across the state.
“We are protesting against Bengalis that were sent to Rakhine [Arakan] State,” Aung Htay, a protest leader in Sittwe, told AFP.
The term ‘Bengali’ is commonly used by many Burmese, including the government, who believe the estimated 1.3 million Rohingya living in Burma to be illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.
In Maungdaw, the town closest to where the rescued migrants are being held, protest organiser Tin Maung Than said he expected 200 people to turn out.
“We are gathering people to protest against Bengali boat people here,” he said.
A flyer promoting protest plans called on people to “protect the future of Rakhine” and also referred to migrants as “Kalar”, a commonly-used racist epithet used to describe Burma‘s Muslim population, reported AFP.
Anti-Muslim sentiment has been on the rise across Burma in recent years with radical monks accused of stoking religious tensions with fiery warnings that Buddhism is under threat from Islam.
Neither the government nor opposition parties have shown much appetite to confront communal tensions for fear of alienating Buddhist voters ahead of crunch elections slated for later this year.