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Australia protests mar ASEAN summit in Sydney

March 17, 2018

Demonstrators have rallied against Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi and Cambodia's Hun Sen. The protests have overshadowed a regional agreement targeting terror groups' use of encrypted platforms.

Members of the Rohingya community gather in Hyde Park to protest against Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi, who is attending the Association of Southeast Asian Nations, ASEAN, special summit, in Sydney
Image: picture alliance/AP/R. Rycroft

Thousands of protesters took to the streets of Sydney on Saturday to protest Southeast Asian leaders gathering in the Australian city for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit.

"We are here today in solidarity among the communities from Southeast Asia who are facing dictatorship and genocide, of course particularly in the Rohingya community," said Shawfikul Islam from the Australian Burmese Rohingya Organization.

Read more: Myanmar's Rohingya: A history of forced exoduses

Banners carried by protesters showed images of Nobel Peace Prize laureate Aung San Suu Kyi with a stylized moustache reminiscent of Nazi Germany dictator Adolf Hitler, calling for her to return the esteemed prize. She has had several awards revoked over the military campaign.

Suu Kyi has been accused by Western governments and human rights groups of doing nothing to stop the Burmese military from implementing a brutal crackdown against the Muslim-minority Rohingya in western Myanmar. Many have called it a campaign of ethnic cleansing.

Protesters rallying against Cambodia's Hun Sen
Protesters have decried human rights violations in Cambodia after Prime Minister Hun Sen threatened to "beat" anyone rallying against his regime in AustraliaImage: picture alliance/AP/R. Rycroft

'Hands full of blood'

A group of Australian lawyers on Saturday sought to have Suu Kyi prosecuted on charges of crimes against humanity. However, Australian Attorney General Christian Porter rejected their legal application, saying she "has complete immunity, including from being served with court documents."

Protesters and rights groups also singled out Cambodian strongman Hun Sen's regime for committing human rights violations. The Cambodian leader threatened violence against demonstrators before arriving in Sydney.

Read more: Is Cambodia an autocratic state now?

Victorian lawmaker Hong Lim of the Labor Party accused Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull of turning a blind eye to human rights abuses, saying: "Many of the hands he's shaking yesterday, today and tomorrow are hands full of blood."

Group photo of ASEAN-Australia special summit 2018
Australia has signed an agreement with ASEAN states to further increase counterterrorism cooperation despite protests decrying human rights violations committed by several of the bloc's membersImage: picture alliance/AAP/dpa/D. Himbrechts

Security pact

The protests overshadowed an agreement signed by Australia and 10 ASEAN member states to bolster cooperation and coordination to counter terrorism in the region.

"Terrorism and violent extremism transcend national borders," said Home Affairs Minister Peter Dutton. "Countering the threat requires a united and cohesive regional effort involving coordination between our respective national security and law enforcement agencies."

Read more: Is Philippines' Marawi free from 'Islamic State' influence?

Malaysian Prime Minister Najib Razak said that the "Islamic State" militant group was targeting the region's 300 million Muslims. With the group effectively losing most of the territory it held in Iraq and Syria, it has tried to expand its influence in areas outside the Middle East, including Southeast Asia and Africa.

The security agreement aims to streamline cooperation on intercepting messages and preventing radicalization, including by expanding methods to break through encrypted platforms.

ls/jlw (AFP, AP, dpa)

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