Myanmar has held its annual military parade with democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi in attendance for the first time. Meanwhile, sectarian bloodshed between Buddhists and Muslims remains the country’s biggest challenge.
At the annual Armed Forces Day parade on Wednesday, attended for the first time by democracy icon and opposition politician Aung San Suu Kyi, Myanmar's army chief reaffirmed the military's involvement in politics.
The military performs a "role in the national politics in accordance with the people's desire when the nation faces ethnic conflicts or political struggles," Vice Senior General Min Aung Hlaing said to about 6,000 troops.
The military show comes as the country grapples with deadly Buddhist-Muslim violence that has left 40 people dead in the past week, prompting martial law in four central Myanmar townships.
Myanmar is a predominantly Buddhist country, but around 5 percent of its 60 million people are Muslims.
The spreading unrest poses the biggest challenge yet to a reformist government that took office in 2011 after almost half a century of military rule.
Aung San Suu Kyi, a Nobel laureate who was locked up for 15 years by the former junta, has been criticized by activists for remaining largely silent about several instances of sectarian violence since last year.
In 2012, two outbreaks of bloodshed between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine left at least 110 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.
She is the daughter of independence hero General Aung San, who founded the modern Myanmar army and led the struggle against British colonial rule. In January, she upset some of her supporters by expressing her "fondness" for the military, which still refuses to acknowledge its well-documented human rights abuses.
Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party Wednesday called on the armed forces "to take part in working for the rule of law, the emergence of peace and amending the constitution," a statement said.
A spokesman for the NLD said about her attendance: "She attended as she was invited."
Last week, in the latest incident of violence, a mob set fire to a mosque and homes in central Myanmar, police said. At least 10 people were killed with neighborhoods reduced to ashes.
hc/dr (Reuters, AFP, AP)