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The U.N. estimates their number at 800,000. But the government does not count them as one of the country’s 135 ethnic groups, and so — like neighboring Bangladesh — denies them citizenship. Human rights groups say racism also plays a role: Many Rohingya, who speak a distinct Bengali dialect and resemble Muslim Bangladeshis, have darker skin and are heavily discriminated against.
The conflict has proven to be a major challenge for the government of President Thein Sein, which has embarked on democratic reforms since a half century of military rule ended in 2011.
It also poses a dilemma for the opposition New Light of Myanmar party of Nobel peace laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, which has been reluctant to go against the tide of popular anti-Rohingya sentiment. Suu Kyi has been criticized by some Western human rights advocates for failing to speak out strongly against what they see as repression of the Rohingya.
Buddhist monks have been spearheading anti-Rohingya protests, and on Thursday staged their latest one in Yangon, the country’s biggest and most important city. More than 100 staged a peaceful protest at the historic Sule Pagoda.
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