Blast rocks radical monk’s sermon

‘BURMESE BIN LADEN’::Four people were wounded by the car bomb, which did not harm Wirathu, the leader of the violent anti-Rohingya Muslim 969 group

Reuters, YANGON, Myanmar

Tue, Jul 23, 2013 - Page 6

An explosion in a car parked meters away from a radical Buddhist monk wounded four people at a mass sermon in northern Myanmar, police said yesterday.

The unexplained blast went off late on Sunday in Myanmar’s second-biggest city, Mandalay, according to police and witnesses. It took place during a ceremony conducted by Wirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim monk who once called himself “the Burmese bin Laden.”

Two monks were among those treated in hospital for minor injuries, but Wirathu was not among them.

“A small explosion went off in a car which was parked about 40 feet away from U Wirathu,” a Mandalay police officer said by telephone, referring to the monk by an honorific.

The officer requested anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to the media.

It was not immediately clear what caused the explosion or the result of any preliminary police probe.

A witness said security had since been stepped up in Mandalay. Even prior to the explosion, security has been tight this week during Buddhist events held in the commercial capital, Yangon.

The explosion took place on the fifth and final day of mass sermons held by Wirathu, the chief proponent of a grassroots movement known as 969. The movement has been accused of stirring anti-Muslim sentiment in a deeply Buddhist nation, where curbs on freedom of speech and assembly have eased since the end of military rule two years ago.

A Reuters investigation last month showed 969 monks were providing a moral justification for a wave of anti-Muslim bloodshed that could derail Myanmar’s nascent reforms. Government officials were unavailable for comment.

Burmese President Thein Sein’s office has described 969 as a “symbol of peace” and Wirathu as “a son of Lord Buddha.”

At least 237 people have been killed in Myanmar in religious violence over the past year and about 150,000 people displaced. Most of the victims were Muslim and the most deadly incidents happened in Rakhine State, where about 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live, according to the UN.

Reuters investigations in Rakhine State and in the central city of Meikhtila revealed the violence was started on both occasions by Buddhist mobs led by monks.