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NLD probing controversy over Mandalay interfaith event’s seating

A photo making the rounds on Facebook purportedly shows the seating arrangements at an interfaith event in Sintgaing Township, Mandalay Region, that has riled Buddhist nationalists.

Following strong criticism from Burmese nationalists, the National League for Democracy has launched an inquiry into controversy surrounding an interfaith prayer event in Mandalay Region, where Buddhist novices were pictured sitting on the floor while leaders of other faiths were afforded chairs.

The NLD’s Yangon headquarters instructed its offices across Burma’s 14 states and regions to hold interfaith prayer events during the month of October, but one such gathering in Sintgaing Township provoked the ire of Buddhist nationalists over the seating arrangements for the event.

At the Sintgaing prayer event, Christian and Muslim leaders were provided seating on chairs, while Buddhist novices were given space on the floor. Hlaing Win, a lawmaker who represents Sintgaing Township in the Mandalay regional legislature and also organised the event in question, said he regrets the way seating arrangements were handled.

Hlaing Win told DVB on Monday that he had apologised for his mismanagement, adding that the township NLD office would investigate the original source of a photo uploaded to Facebook showing the novices seated on the ground.

“We are still doing the investigation and then we will complain at the police station to take action,” he said.

Speaking to DVB, NLD spokesperson Nyan Win said party headquarters had asked organisers for an explanation as to why the interfaith event was mismanaged, adding that action would be taken pending the results of the inquiry into the matter.

“We’ve started an inquiry with them, [asking] why the problem happened. This problem has caused criticism of our party, we already know. We will explain this issue when the inquiry is finished,” he said.

Last week, the Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP) attempted to submit an urgent proposal in the Lower House seeking government oversight of the interfaith prayer events to ensure that they did not have an adverse impact on Burmese Buddhist traditions and culture.

The USDP held a press conference in Yangon on Monday to address a variety of topics, including the interfaith prayer events.

The former ruling party said it would not object to the interfaith prayer events, but indicated that it was concerned that a political party — no specific party was named — might be intending to take advantage of these interfaith prayer events politically.

Speaking at the press conference, Lower House MP Thaung Aye said he was informed by the director-general of the lower chamber that the house speaker blocked the urgent proposal from being submitted for consideration by the assembly.

“We don’t want or intend to disturb the events. We just want oversight of the events so they do not damage the culture of Buddhism. The government needs to oversee the events to prevent something like Sintgaing Township from happening again,” he said.