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Following a day of sit-in protests by extremist Buddhist monks and their supporters, Burma’s Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture has declared that each local chapter of the Sangha Maha Nayaka has the authority to tackle the protestors.
The Sangha Maha Nayaka is the highest order of Buddhist clergy in the country.
Aung San Win, the spokesperson for the religious affairs ministry, told DVB today that the ministry has instructed local and township chapters of the Sangha Maha Nayaka to stop the protests.
“We will soon know who is pulling the strings behind these protests,” he said.
The protest camps were set up on Wednesday evening in Rangoon and Mandalay. Hardline Buddhist monk U Agga said that the demonstrations were aimed at overthrowing the current government, led by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD), as it has failed to protect Buddhism and the Burman race.
Speaking from a protest site in Mandalay on Thursday, U Agga said that the protestors were calling for a new government that can “lead the development of Buddhism in the country”, as well as deal effectively with “national interests and race issues”.
The Sangha Maha Nayaka committee in Chanmyathazi Township in Mandalay has already moved to quash the protest which is being held at the historical Mahamuni Temple in the former capital, but protest leaders have vowed to stay.
“We don’t need police permission to set up a camp,” said U Agga. “This is a boycott, not a protest. And we will remain here until our demands have been met.”
Myint Oo, a spokesperson for the Mandalay sit-in, said today that the minister of religious affairs and culture had consistently oppressed Buddhism and instead prioritised the development of other religions.
“I think that other nationalists from around the country will do as we have done,” he told DVB.
In Rangoon, more than 50 nationalists and Buddhist monks set up camp yesterday near the eastern stairway of Shwedagon Pagoda. They refused to speak to journalists about their protest.
Hardline nationalist Khin Wine Kyi, a former MP, joined the protest at Shwedagon on Thursday, telling reporters that she supported the protestors’ cause and calling for the government to respond to the nationalists’ demands.
At 6pm on Thursday, the Ministry of Religious Affairs and Culture updated its statement, declaring that “those monks who are participating in the protest do not represent the monkhood’s wishes.”
In May, the Sangha Maha Nayaka outlawed the Association for the Protection of Race and Religion, also known as the Ma Ba Tha, a right-wing Buddhist group headed by firebrand monk U Wirathu.