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Asean & Global Updates
POSTED | 10:42 AM | 27-11-2017

Pope arrives in Myanmar on high-stakes visit

Pope Francis arrived in mainly Buddhist Myanmar on Monday (Nov 27, 2017) on a highly sensitive visit to a country facing sharp global criticism for the alleged ethnic cleansing of its Rohingya Muslim minority.

The 80-year-old pontiff, the first to travel to Myanmar, was welcomed by children from different minority groups in bright, bejewelled clothes, who gave him flowers and received a papal embrace in return, AFP reported.

Nuns in white habits were among the devotees to have travelled from across the country in his honour, waving flags as his motorcade swept by the golden Shwedagon Pagoda to the archbishop’s residence in downtown Yangon, where the pope will stay on Monday night.

“I saw the pope, he was sitting in the front of the car. I was so pleased, I cried!” Christina Aye Aye Sein, 48, told AFP after the pope’s convoy passed.

“His face looked very lovely and sweet... He is coming here for peace.”

But the joyful scenes stood in stark contrast to the gravity of the main issue that frames his trip.

Myanmar’s military stands accused of waging a campaign of ethnic cleansing against the Rohingya Muslims.

More than 620,000 have fled a crackdown in northern Rakhine state for neighbouring Bangladesh over the past three months.

The pope’s four-day visit intensifies pressure on Myanmar over its treatment of the stateless minority, a group he has called his “brothers and sisters” in repeated entreaties to ease their plight.

His speeches will be scrutinised by Buddhist hardliners for any mention of the word “Rohingya,” an incendiary term in a country where the Muslim group are reviled and labelled “Bengalis” -- alleged illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

Francis will meet civilian leader Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel Peace Prize winner whose lustre has faded because of her failure to speak up publicly for the Rohingya.

He will also hold talks with army chief Min Aung Hlaing -- a meeting between a religious leader, who has championed the rights of refugees, and the man accused of overseeing the brutal campaign to drive out the Rohingya.

Speaking to a crowd of 30,000 people in St Peter’s Square, shortly before he left Rome, the pontiff said: “I ask you to be with me in prayer so that, for these peoples, my presence is a sign of affinity and hope.”


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