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Myanmar scraps developments under pressure from monks

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Myanmar's government announced on Tuesday that it would halt five controversial property developments near the Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most famous Buddhist site.

[YANGON] Myanmar's government announced on Tuesday that it would halt five controversial property developments near the Shwedagon pagoda, the country's most famous Buddhist site.

Myanmar's influential monks have led calls to stop the projects, which they say risk damaging and desecrating the golden pagoda. "There were growing concerns among the people, monks, scholars and experts about the dangers of these projects to the Shwedagon Pagoda," government official Zaw Than Thin said in a statement read out on national television on Tuesday night. "The Myanmar Investment Commission and the ministry of defence also suggested that these projects should be stopped. When the investors were consulted about these concerns, they also willingly agreed to stop these projects." Zaw Than Thin said that the government would work with investors and ensure they would not incur any losses.

Monks are deeply revered in the Buddhist majority country and have been at the forefront of many the nation's pro-democracy protests.

Since 2011, when a quasi-civilian government took power following 49 years of military rule, some monks have grown increasingly nationalistic and stoked anti-Muslim sentiment while wading further into politics in a crucial election year.

The most prominent nationalist group of monks, the Committee for the Protection of Nationality and Religion - better known by its acronym Ma Ba Tha - recently threw its support behind the campaign to halt the Shwedagon projects and threatened nationwide protests if they continued.

The five property developments were originally suspended in January for a month by the Myanmar Investment Commission following complaints over their proximity to Shwedagon and concerns over their height.

Particular issue was taken with the most visible of the five projects, Dagon City One, a 22-acre mixed-used property being developed by Marga Landmark, a joint venture between Marga Group, an international real estate firm, and local partner Thu Kha Yadanar.

Mangosteen Public Relations, the public relations firm retained by Marga, was not immediately available for comment on Tuesday.

REUTERS