The demonstration follows months of unrest in the country’s western Rakhine state between the region’s ethnic Buddhist communities and the Rohingya. Violence first broke out in June
, after a Buddhist woman was raped and then killed, allegedly by Muslims. Outraged by the crime, a local mob attacked a bus, beating 10 Muslims to death in the process. Since then, Rakhine state has been plagued by periodic clashes between the two groups, which have left at least 90 people dead
, according to an official estimate. Human rights group fear, however, that the death toll could be much higher.
Rallying behind the president’s plan, hundreds of Buddhists and other demonstrators gathered in Mandalay on September 2, holding up signs that read “Protect mother Myanmar by supporting the president”.
According to the UN, there are an estimated 800,000 Rohingya Muslims currently living in Burma. Many in the country refer to them as “Bengalis”, because they speak a regional dialect of Bengali. The Rohingya, however, are stateless. Claiming centuries of lineage in Rakhine state, Rohinhya activists have long petitioned for Burmese citizenship, to no avail. This means they have little access to education or health care and face travel restrictions.