YANGON- Proposals by radical Buddhist monks to criminalise inter-faith marriage in Myanmar face strong opposition from women's rights groups in a tussle over the nation's religious identity that has sparked international alarm.
Buddhist nationalists, feeding off the fear and uncertainty caused by successive waves of anti-Muslim violence, have issued fiery pronouncements that the very fabric of the country's main religion is under threat, casting a dark shadow over ongoing democratic reforms.
The marriage law is one of four bills suggested by a hardline faction within the Buddhist clergy and put to the fledgling parliament by the president.
To "protect" Buddhism - the religion of more than 80 per cent of the population - radical monks have urged boycotts of Muslim businesses, including of Qatari telecoms firm Ooredoo, despite its promise to bring much-needed affordable mobile access.
And they have warned that Buddhist women are at risk from Muslim men, a tactic "calibrated for emotional impact", said Nicholas Farrelly, a research fellow at the Australian National University.
"These calls help to generate a mood of crisis that radicalises those who would otherwise be relatively apathetic about other religions in Myanmar," he told AFP.
While the country is dominated by ethnic Bamar Buddhists, it has sizeable religious minorities thanks in part to the legacy of British colonial rule.
Christians make up around four per cent of the population, and Muslims are thought to account for between four and 10 per cent.
The commercial hub of Yangon is dominated by the glittering Shwedagon, a revered golden pagoda, but the city also boasts dozens of churches and mosques.
Conflict flared between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Myanmar's Rakhine state in 2012, leaving more than 200 people dead and 140,000 displaced.