Angry Muslim protesters took to the streets from Jakarta to Dhaka yesterday to denounce Myanmar over allegations of indiscriminate killing and rape in a military crackdown on the country’s Rohingya Muslim minority.
Around 5,000 Bangladeshi Muslims demonstrated in the capital Dhaka after Friday prayers, with hundreds more protesting in Kuala Lumpur, Jakarta and Bangkok to accuse Myanmar of ethnic cleansing and genocide in its northern Rakhine state.
Muslim-majority Malaysia’s cabinet also issued a statement condemning the violence, an unusually strong criticism against a fellow member of the 10-country Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean).
“Malaysia... calls on the government of Myanmar to take all necessary actions to address the alleged ethnic cleansing,” the statement said.
It said the Myanmar ambassador would be summoned over the crisis and that Malaysian Foreign Minister Anifah Aman would meet with de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi and other top Myanmar officials “at the earliest possible date.”
Up to 30,000 Rohingyas have abandoned their homes in Myanmar to escape the unfolding violence, the UN says, after troops poured into the narrow strip where they live earlier this month.
Rohingyas are denied citizenship and subject to harsh restrictions in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, where many view them as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, though many have lived been in Myanmar for generations.
The Dhaka protesters gathered outside the Baitul Mokarram mosque, the country’s largest, to demand an end to the violence, denounce Suu Kyi, and calling for Bangladesh
to accept fleeing Rohingyas.
Around 500 Malaysians and Rohingyas marched through a heavy tropical downpour from a Kuala Lumpur mosque to Myanmar’s embassy carrying banners denouncing the Rakhine
Abu Tahir, a 60-year-old Rohingya man who demonstrated with a chain coiled around his body, said he had been cut off from his family in Rakhine since he fled two years ago.
“The Rohingyas are being treated like dogs, and are being killed,” he said, tears rolling down his face.
Amir Hamzah, 60, who heads the Malaysian Muslims Coalition, an NGO, said “the people of Malaysia strongly condemn” Myanmar’s actions.
“We want an immediate stop to the violence. This is cruel,” he said.
In Jakarta, around 200 demonstrators from Indonesian Islamic organisations protested outside Myanmar’s embassy.
Chanting “Allahu Akbar! (God is greater!)”, they called for the government of Indonesia – the world’s most populous Muslim nation – to break off diplomatic ties with Myanmar and for Suu Kyi’s 1991 Nobel Peace Prize to be revoked.
“This genocide is happening to women, children and the elderly,” said Maya Hayati, a 34-year-old housewife.
“If they (Myanmar) don’t want them, then it’s probably better to send them to another country. Don’t torture them like that in their own country.”
The UN says the stateless Rohingyas are among the world’s most persecuted minorities.
The UN refugee agency says well over 120,000 have fled Rakhine since a previous bout of bloody unrest in 2012, many braving a perilous sea journey to Malaysia.
Last year, thousands were stranded at sea after a well-worn trafficking route through Thailand collapsed following a police crackdown sparked by the discovery of brutal human-trafficking camps along the Malaysia border.
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