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Thousands of monks celebrate Buddha’s birthday at junta event

MANDALAY, MYANMAR (AFP) -Thousands of monks celebrated the birth of Buddha at a junta-organised event in Mandalay on Saturday, highlighting a division in the clergy since last year’s coup in Myanmar.

Since the coup that ousted civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, more than 1,800 people have died in a brutal military crackdown on dissent, according to a monitoring group.

Some monks have joined street protests opposing the power grab, while other religious leaders have defended the military junta.

Ahead of Buddha’s birthday, a group of Mandalay monks opposed to the coup urged other holy men not to participate in the junta-organised event.

“They are ogres, but they pretend to be human beings,” the Sangha Mandalay monk group said in a Facebook post.

“They have bloody hands… It is time for our Buddhist monks to oppose this food donation event.”

The last time the event was held in 2019, prior to pandemic disruptions, an estimated 30,000 monks attended.

Government officials and representatives from a military-linked political party hosted the religious ceremony near a former royal palace on Saturday – the day coinciding with a full moon.