Nationalists demand religion minister resign, promise more protests


NAY PYI TAW — Nationalist demonstrators calling for the resignation of Religious Affairs Minister Thura U Aung Ko have promised to continue their public protests unless the government “implements a plan for the protection of race and religion”.

At a protest in Nay Pyi Taw on Saturday, a procession of speakers from the nationalist movement took to the stage to list their demands, including the resignation of Aung Ko for what they alleged was his preferential treatment of Muslims.

They also said Ma Hnin Sabae Aung Ko, the minister’s daughter, must apologise to Myanmar’s monks for using “derogatory remarks” in public statements about the nationalist movement.

Protest leaders insisted on the immediate release of Win Ko Ko Latt, head of the Myanmar National Network, who was remanded in custody earlier this month as his trial for helping organise an April 2016 anti-Rohingya protest outside the United States embassy continues.

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Those at the stage also called on the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee to immediately lift its one-year sermon ban on senior Ma Ba Tha leader U Wirathu, imposed for a what the Buddhist governing council characterised as hate speeches directed against Myanmar’s Muslim community.

Around 1,000 people attended Saturday’s demonstrators at the Shwe Nant Tar football field, in apparent defiance of a police order to cap attendance numbers at 300, but still much less than the 30,000 forecast by protest leaders.

Participants had travelled from Yangon, Mandalay and the Ayeyarwady delta to participate, while former Union and Solidarity Party MP ‘Bullet’ Hla Swe, monk U Zandita and nationalist leaders U Aye Min Htun and U Aye Paing all gave speeches.

Organisers cordoned off a section of the field and designated those watching from outside the rope’s boundaries as an “audience” to the protest in order to circumvent the restriction.

Ottarathiri Township police officer Aung Than told media that authorities had decided the rally had adhered to the restrictions set out and that no action would be taken against protest leaders.

Ma Ba Tha, the country’s most high-profile nationalist group, sought to distance itself from Saturday’s protest, telling the media it had not been involved in organising the rally.

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