U Wirathu defies preaching ban to call for state of emergency

By HTUN KHAING | FRONTIER

YANGON — Nationalist leader U Wirathu has lambasted the government and parliament’s response to recent violence in Rakhine, and demanded a state of emergency be declared in the troubled state. He also took aim at international NGOs, labeling them “terrorists”.

At a fiery rally outside Mahabandoola Park in downtown Yangon on Wednesday afternoon, Wirathu said Myanmar risked losing control over Maungdaw Township, on the border with Bangladesh in northern Rakhine State. He warned the National League for Democracy government and lawmakers they needed to act decisively and bring in the military.

“Will you lose Maungdaw or adopt a martial law there? Choose the outcome you like,” he said.

“Only the commander-in-chief can protect the assets and lives of Rakhine ethnics and tame the Bengalis,” he added, referring to the 1 million stateless Muslims in northern Rakhine who mostly call themselves Rohingya.

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He was speaking as the death toll from recent violence, which erupted when the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army launched attacks on around 30 police and military checkpoints on August 25, rose above 110.

Wirathu’s comments echoed those of a senior military official, Major-General Than Htut Thein, who said at a briefing in Nay Pyi Taw on Tuesday that the military had twice asked the government to introduce a state of emergency and martial law in northern Rakhine State: about a week before the August 25 attacks, and then again in the hours after the attacks began.

Media reports also said that the Tatmadaw wanted President U Htin Kyaw to call a meeting of the National Defence and Security Council, which has the authority to declare a state of emergency.

While Wirathu is banned from preaching by the State Sangha Maha Nayaka Committee, the event was described as a “public lecture” rather than a sermon in an apparent effort to circumvent the order.

The crowd initially numbered around 100, but as the two-hour lecture wore on more bystanders came to watch. By the time it ended at around 5pm, an estimated 2,000 people were listening. The government has not yet responded to his comments.

Wirathu also echoed government accusations that staff from local and international NGOs of providing assistance to Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army.

“I want to tell INGOs, ‘Get out of Maungdaw.’ You are terrorists who have come and damaged Maungdaw, exploiting the power of the United Nations,” he said.

He then shouted “INGO” several times, to which the crowd responded emphatically, “Get out.”

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