Source AP ©

Monks call for Buddhism to be Thai national religion

Hundreds of monks rallied in Thailand decided that a worsening Islamic insurgency in the Muslim south is a good reason to make Buddhism the national religion.

More than 2,000 people have died since 2004 in the country's three southernmost provinces along the Malaysian border in an insurgency fueled by concerns among Muslims that they have been discriminated against, especial in educational and job opportunities, in Buddhist-dominated Thailand.

The call from the monks revives a debate that dates back to 1997 when a campaign to make Buddhist the national religion was dropped amid concerns that it would divide the country.

The issue is heating up again as a new constitution is being drafted by a committee appointed by coup leaders who ousted elected Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra in September.

The coup leaders have promised to put a new constitution to voters in a referendum as early as September.

Along with holding a silent rally outside of Parliament, monks sent a representative Tuesday to meet with Prasong Sunsiri, the chairman of the constitutional drafting committee, to press their demands that Buddhism be included.

"It must be pointed out that this national religion campaign is taking place amid widespread paranoia within the clergy against Islam following the southern violence," Sanitsuda Ekachai, a columnist for the English daily Bangkok Post, wrote earlier this month. "There has also been wide distribution of leaflets alleging that Islam is a threat to Thai Buddhism."

More than 90 percent of Thailand's 64 million people are Buddhists, and the remainder are either Muslim or Christian.

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