11/03/2020, 16.46
MYANMAR
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On the run, the 'Buddhist Bin Laden' surrenders to police

After more than a year, the radical monk U Wirathu has reappeared in public. Speaking to a crowd, he attacked the National League for Democracy and Aung San Suu Kyi. Some fear he might influence the upcoming elections. Expert told AsiaNews that his reappearance is likely an attempt by members of the former military regime to destabilise the vote.

Yangon (AsiaNews) – Myanmar’s notorious radical monk U Wirathu turned himself to police after a year on the run.

Dubbed the "Buddhist Bin Laden", he is famous for his hateful speeches, support for the military and repression of the Rohingya Muslim minority. He has also strongly criticised the country’s de facto leader, Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and her party, the National League for Democracy (NLD).

Because of his statements, he was charged with sedition. His rendition comes just a few days before next Sunday’s parliamentary elections, which, according to experts, should end with an NLD victory, albeit with a smaller margin than in the 2015 election.

Before surrendering to police, the radical monk, surrounded by a crowd of loyalists, tried to meet with senior officials of the National Buddhist Monk Association (MahaNa) before issuing an appeal about the election. However, he was turned away.

“I would like to request my fellow monks around the country to ask their followers to vote for the parties that work to protect the country’s race and religion,” Wirathu told the small crowd of followers.

The party he is referring to is to the formerly ruling Union Solidarity and Development Party (USDP). The latter was created by Myanmar’s former military regime, and Wirathu has always supported it.

Speaking to AsiaNews, analyst Lawrence Mung Song stressed that, for many Buddhist monks, Wirathu’s arrest and indictment is an attack on Buddhism itself and the monk class.

For this reason, the NLD and its government have come in for some criticism and accusations of "religious oppression".

“Many believe that he was controlled by the former military who want to destabilise the upcoming election,” said the expert.

The fact that “he came out now is a sign that someone wants to create instability because in Myanmar when it comes to politics, nothing happens by chance.” This is “worrisome” for the election and the future.

“Many ordinary Buddhists dislike his crude ways,” explained Lawrence Mung Song. But “Others believe Buddhism has been weakened recently” by the growth of the non-Buddhist population, such as “Muslims and Christians."

The monk enjoys broad support. He “can still create chaos in Myanmar, especially in this election. This is why many human rights groups and political activists are concerned if he is released. This would be unexpected, an event of great importance.

For Mung Song, “Serious repercussions following his return cannot be exclude.” In fact, Wirathu became famous in 2012 at a time of strong tensions and confrontation between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.

He founded a nationalist organisation, later banned for provoking violence against religious minorities, in particular, Muslims. And his appeal yesterday appears to be another endorsement for the UDSP, the only party able to take power from Suu Kyi.

In May 2019, a court issued an arrest warrant for U Wirathu charging him with sedition over comments he made during a nationalist demonstration against the NLD leader. If found guilty, he faces up to three years in prison.

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