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Myanmar’s radical monk blames bombing on Muslims

Photo credit: AP |
In this photo taken Sunday, July 21, 2013, Buddhist monks and residents watch
police examining a car after an explosion in Mandalay, central Myanmar. A small
explosion went off Sunday near a firebrand monk as he was giving a sermon during
a Buddhist ceremony, wounding five people, police and witnesses said Monday.
(AP Photo)
AYE AYE WIN
July 22, 2013

YANGON, Myanmar –
(AP) — A radical Buddhist monk blamed Muslim extremists Monday for a small
bomb that detonated in Myanmar just a few meters (yards) from where he was
delivering a sermon, though police said it was too early to speculate. Five
people were injured, but only slightly.

The blast, which
occurred at 9 p.m. Sunday during a religious ceremony on the outskirts of Mandalay,
comes as the predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million struggles to contain
religious violence that has claimed more than 250 lives in the last year.

Most of the victims
have been members of the country’s minority Muslim population, hunted down by
frenzied Buddhist mobs.

Monk Ashin Wirathu
— accused of inciting the bloodshed with his hate-filled, anti-Islam rhetoric
— seemed unfazed after the attack and quietly carried on with his sermon, said
Ma Sandar, a witness.

“It wasn’t a
loud explosion,” the 35-year-old said, comparing the sound to that of a
tire blowing out. “But it caused some commotion. Many people left.”

Myanmar has won
international praise in the last two years for implementing sweeping political
and economic reforms following a half-century of brutal military rule and
isolation.

But the nominally
civilian government of President Thein Sein has been largely silent as Buddhist
mobs have gone on rampages in several cities, chasing down victims with metal
pipes, chains and swords, and torching mosques and Muslim-owned shops and
homes.

In addition to
those killed, more than 140,000 people have been forced to flee their homes.

A police officer,
who asked to remain anonymous because he was not authorized to speak to the
media, said it was unclear who was behind Sunday’s bombing.

A small device was
placed under a car, he said, about 60 feet (18 meters) from where Wirathu was
speaking.

Among the five
injured was a young novice monk.

Wirathu immediately
called it the “work of Islamic extremists.”

“Ordinary
Muslims wouldn’t have done this,” he told The Associated Press by
telephone Monday from his monastery in Mandalay.

Wirathu, who once
referred to himself as the “Burmese bin Laden,” is the leader of 969,
a fundamentalist movement that started on the fringes of society but now boasts
supporters nationwide.

He has called for a
boycott of all Muslim-owned shops and is pushing for a law that would restrict
marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men.

Soaring birthrates,
he says, mean that Muslims, who today make up just 4 percent of the population,
could one day become a majority.

Wirathu, who has
come under heavy criticism in the international press, again lashed out again
at Time magazine Sunday for a cover story earlier this month that plastered the
words “Face of Buddhist Terrorism” under his photograph.

That too, he
alleged, was the work of Muslim extremists, though he did not elaborate.
“The first
threat to me was through the Time magazine,” he said, and the second was
Sunday, in the form of a bomb.

Thein Sein sought
during a European tour, which wrapped up over the weekend, to clean up the
image of a country gripped by sectarian violence, saying claims of “ethnic
cleansing” in western Rakhine state were part of a “smear campaign”
by outsiders.

The New York-based
Human Rights Watch lashed back, saying that the president had “zero
credibility,” having done next to nothing to investigate atrocities,
allegedly carried out with the backing of security forces.

The rights group
pointed to several mass graves as evidence.

The president
lifted a state of emergency Rakhine on Saturday — several months ahead of
schedule — claiming peace and security had returned.

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