YANGON • Myanmar police shot dead seven demonstrators, while 12 were injured in troubled Rakhine state, after a local gathering celebrating an ancient Buddhist Arakan kingdom turned violent.
The protesters gathered late on Tuesday in Mrauk U township in the northern part of Rakhine to mark the end of the Arakan kingdom, secretary of the Rakhine state government Tin Maung Swe told Reuters.
The violent demonstration underscores the challenges facing Myanmar leader Aung San Suu Kyi in a country where dozens of ethnic groups have been clamouring for autonomy since independence from Britain in 1947.
Some 4,000 people surrounded a government building after the annual ceremony marking the demise of the Arakan kingdom over 200 years ago, Mr Tin Maung Swe said.
The organisers did not seek approval from the local authorities for the gathering, he added.
"The police used rubber bullets initially but the crowd didn't leave. Finally the security members had to shoot. The conflict happened when some people tried to seize guns from the police," he said.
Mrauk U regional MP Tun Ther Sein said some of the critically injured protesters were taken to the hospital in state capital Sittwe, a three-hour drive south of the ancient town.
The United Nations in Myanmar called on the authorities to "investigate any disproportionate use of force or other illegal actions that may have occurred in relation to this incident".
The Rakhine, also known as Arakanese, are one of the 135 officially recognised ethnic groups in Myanmar. Their identity is closely connected to the once powerful Arakanese kingdom along the Bay of Bengal, which was conquered by the Burmese kingdom in 1784.