An explosion near an event hosted by a Myanmar monk who stands accused of inflaming Buddhist-Muslim tensions has left five people injured in the city of Mandalay, police said.
The attack on Monday took place during a ceremony conducted by Wirathu, a prominent anti-Muslim monk who once called himself “the Burmese bin Laden”.
“The scene was about 90 metres away from the preaching event,” said an officer from police headquarters on Monday in the capital Naypyidaw.
Police said five people – a Buddhist child novice monk, three women and one man – were slightly injured in the blast, which occurred in a residential area of Myanmar’s second largest city.
“We do not know the cause of the blast yet and are still investigating. But we think it could be from a homemade device,” the officer told the AFP news agency.
He added that a vehicle where the blast was thought to have originated was slightly damaged.
Wirathu, leader of the Buddhist group 969, has called for a boycott of all Muslim-owned shops and is pushing for a law that would restrict marriages between Buddhist women and Muslim men.
Soaring birthrates, he has warned, mean that Muslims, who today make up just 4 percent of the population, could one day become a majority in this predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people.
His sermons have been largely blamed for violence by Buddhist mobs that have left more than 250 people dead – most of them Muslims – and sent another 140,000 fleeing their homes in the last year.
Myanmar in June banned the controversial Time magazine cover story on Buddhist-Muslim unrest, which featured a picture of Wirathu and the caption “The Face of Buddhist Terror”.
The article, one of a host of stories by the international media that have caused consternation in Myanmar, was met with anger on social media sites and its author, Time East Asia Correspondent Hannah Beech, has been singled out for personal criticism.
In an article on his Facebook page entitled “This is the beginning of the cultural acts of the minority loved by Hannah Beech”, Wirathu said Monday’s blast had injured audience members.
In March at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Myanmar, with thousands of people left homeless after Buddhist mobs set whole Muslim neighbourhoods ablaze. In one area alone, at least 20 pupils and four teachers from a Muslim madrassa were murdered, according to witnesses and rights groups.
Reformist President Thein Sein on Friday denied accusations by Human Rights Watch of ethnic cleansing against Rohingya Muslims.
The Myanmar leader said the claims were part of a “smear campaign” against his government in an interview with France 24 television towards the end of a European tour that took him to London and Paris.