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Oct 22, 5:19 AM EDT

Buddhists protest to urge Myanmar not to repatriate Rohingya

SITTWE, Myanmar (AP) -- Hundreds of hard-line Buddhists have protested to urge Myanmar's government not to repatriate the nearly 600,000 minority Rohingya Muslims who have fled to Bangladesh since late August to escape violence in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

The protest took place Sunday in Sittwe, the state capital, where many Rohingya lived before an outbreak of inter-communal violence in 2012 forced them to flee their homes.

Aung Htay, a protest organizer, said any citizens would be welcome in the state. But he added that "if these people don't have the right to be citizens ... the government's plan for a conflict-free zone will never be implemented."

Myanmar doesn't recognize Rohingya as an ethnic group, instead insisting they are Bengali migrants from Bangladesh living illegally in the country.

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