Thai Buddhists rally against new religious laws

BANGKOK, April 10 (Reuters) - Some 3,000 Buddhists rallied in Bangkok on Tuesday in protest against proposed laws that they said would undermine Buddhism as Thailand's religion.

The protesters, mostly elderly women wearing white robes and holding yellow Buddhist flags, said new education and religious reforms, if implemented, would marginalise Buddhism and increase the role of other religions in Thailand.

"Buddhism is not stated in the constitution as the national religion as it was in the past and the new laws will allow laymen to rule monks," a statement from the protesters said.

"These will severely damage Buddhism," it added.

Thailand, where 57 million of its 62 million population are Buddhist, is in a process of overhauling its education system, grouping educational, cultural and religious affairs in various agencies under one new ministry.

The protests, in front of Government House, follow a spate of bombings that killed a child and wounded dozens of people in southern Thailand during a long holiday weekend to celebrate a Buddhist religious festival.

Thai intelligence agencies have blamed the attacks on Muslim separatists living along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Thai Education Minister Kasem Watanachai told the demonstrators on Tuesday he would ensure that Buddhism was not damaged by the new laws.

"I, as a Buddhist, will try my best to protect Buddhism in Thailand as best as I can," Kasem said.

03:30 04-10-01

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