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June 23, 2017

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Monks protest in Myanmar against OIC

YANGON -- Several thousand monks took to the streets of Myanmar's second-largest city Friday to protest against a world Islamic body's efforts to help Muslim Rohingya in strife-hit Rakhine state, organizers said.

Holding banners reading "No OIC in Myanmar," the monks gathered in Mandalay to urge the government to block a plan by the 57-member Organization of the Islamic Conference (OIC) to open an office in the country.

"We cannot accept the OIC here. We will continue our protest until they give up," one of the demonstration leaders, Thaw Bi Ta, told AFP by telephone.

"The OIC is not working for human rights but for Muslim rights. We have our suspicions about them. They never reject Muslim extremists," he said.

"We want peace between all ethnicities and religions. We have no problem with Muslims in the country."

Sectarian tensions are running high following Buddhist-Rohingya clashes in June in western Rakhine which left dozens of people dead and forced tens of thousands more to seek refuge in temporary shelters.

The country formerly known as Burma has seen a series of protests against the OIC and Myanmar's 800,000 stateless Rohingya, who are described by the U.N. as one of the world's most persecuted minorities.

Friday's anti-Muslim protest was the second in recent weeks in Mandalay involving monks, who were at the vanguard of a 2007 pro-democracy uprising that was brutally crushed by the former junta.

The monks said they planned to stage a countrywide protest on Sunday if the government did not respond to their demand.

Members of the OIC, the top world Muslim body, toured Rakhine last month after accusations from rights groups that security forces opened fire on Rohingya during the sectarian unrest, prompting concern across the Islamic world.

Speaking a dialect similar to one in neighboring Bangladesh, Myanmar's Rohingya are seen by the government and many Burmese as illegal immigrants.

The tensions in Rakhine have spread to neighboring Bangladesh, where police said last week they had arrested nearly 300 people in connection with a wave of violence targeting Buddhist homes and temples.

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