Buddhist nationalists clash with Rangoon residents

Buddhist nationalists clash with Rangoon residents

Buddhist nationalist protesters in Rangoon on Sunday launched racial slurs at former UN secretary general Kofi Annan and scuffled with local residents who were simply playing football nearby.

A photographer was also punched and has filed a complaint.

The extent of any injuries suffered is not known but the event was more charged than a similar protest last week.

Nationalists oppose Annan’s involvement with a new advisory commission tasked with helping find a solution to the conflict in Arakan State, where Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims have lived apart since deadly clashes in 2012.

Some 500 people gathered at Bo Sein Mhan stadium in Rangoon’s Bahan township at 1pm on Sunday. There were stickers and posters saying “Kofi Annan, No Need.” Speeches were given denouncing the involvement of foreigners in Arakan issues.

There are two other non-Burmese nationals on the nine-member commission, which started work last week and will submit a report with their recommendations in a year.

In his speech, U Thu Nanda, a nationalist monk from central Burma, summed up the protest by calling it: “Objections to the harms caused on national affairs and a mass demand for prevalence of law.”

Most of the vitriol, however, was reserved for the former secretary general.

“I don’t even want to use the word ‘Ko’ when I call his name,” Thu Nanda said, alluding to a prefix to some male Burmese names that when not used suggests a lack of respect.

He explained himself later in an interview on the sidelines of the protest.

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“In Burmese, ‘Ko’ means the one we respect or honor. I don’t care if he is the former UN secretary general or former King of the Universe. We don’t trust him or the international community to solve our ethnic affairs. And we won’t respect him too, so I used ‘Nga’, which means for ordinary people.”

Throwing Annan’s country into the nasty mix, other nationalists called him a “Black Kalar from Ghana.” The word “kalar” is a derogatory term for Muslims but has been used against those of Indian or African descent as well.

“Kofi Annan is a citizen of Ghana. We named him Ghana Kalar Mel, said Naing Thu Latt, an English teacher who is a member of the Ethnic Protection Network, one of several nationalist groups on hand at the protest. “Mel” means black in Burmese.

There was widespread anger about foreign involvement in the affairs of Burma, but it was also aimed at the government led by Aung San Suu Kyi that is backing and supporting the commission.

U Thu Seikta, another nationalist monk, said that “the guest will come anyway if he is invited. I object to the one who invited him.”

Problems started a few speeches later when local residents scuffled with protesters, though what caused the confrontation is not clear.

During the scuffle, Myat Thu Kyaw, a photojournalist with the Myanmar Press Photo Agency, was punched by one of the demonstrators as he was trying to take pictures. Several other members of the media were intimidated and forced to withdraw from covering the events or risk harm.

“They came towards me to make a problem,” Myat Thu Kyaw said. “At that time, I was taking photos closely. One of them asked me why I took pictures and then I was punched. I didn’t know who did this, I was surrounded by a crowd.”

There will be a press conference on Monday at 2pm at the Myanmar Journalist Network in Rangoon to discuss the confrontation. Myat Thu Kyaw has also filed a complaint with authorities in Bahan.

One of the organizers, Thet Myo Oo, said the scuffle with local residents started when they claimed that protesters had been paid to show up to the event.

After police intervened, the nationalists marched towards Tamwe Township’s Kyaikkasan stadium, shouting slogans along the way.

This is not the first protest against the advisory commission and Annan’s involvement. He was greeted with one when he arrived in Sittwe last week.

When asked about it at a press conference in Rangoon a few days later, he said they have the right to free expression.

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