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Myanmar fugitive monk Wirathu hands himself in to face sedition charges

YANGON, Nov 2 (Reuters) - Hardline Buddhist nationalist monk Ashin Wirathu handed himself over to police in Myanmar’s commercial capital of Yangon on Monday after more than a year on the run from charges of sedition.

Wearing a face mask and shield, he spoke to supporters at a monks’ association in the city before driving to a police station in Dagon township, according to Reuters witnesses. Officials there did not immediately comment.

“I will pay homage to senior monks, and then I will go with police, I will go wherever they send,” he said, accusing the government and ruling party of bullying him, according to a video broadcast of the speech.

Wirathu is known for his rhetoric against minority Muslims, particularly the Rohingya community, but he has also been critical of the civilian government of Aung San Suu Kyi and supportive of Myanmar’s powerful military.

The western district court in Yangon issued a warrant for his arrest in May last year.

His surrender to authorities comes days ahead of a Nov. 8 national election.

Wirathu is the most prominent of the nationalist monks to gain growing political weight in Myanmar since a transition from military rule began in 2011.

He has often targeted Rohingya Muslims, more than 730,000 of whom fled an army crackdown in Rakhine State in 2017 that United Nations investigators said was carried out with “genocidal intent”.

The law under which Wirathu faces possible arrest prohibits bringing “hatred or contempt” or exciting disaffection toward the government. It carries a prison sentence of up to three years.

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