Turkey is determined to become a global production and technology center, the country’s president said on Saturday.

“We are committed to making Turkey, the center of three continents, a global production, and technology center, whether some people like it or not,” Recep Tayyip Erdogan said at the opening ceremony of the MESS Technology Center in Istanbul.

With its 85 technoparks and 1,607 research and design centers, Turkey is one step closer to achieving its aim of developing groundbreaking technologies, Erdogan added.

He said Turkish companies stood out with their high-quality products, competitive prices, and “above all with their reliability” during the coronavirus pandemic.

“I hope the momentum Turkey has gained will further increase as the pandemic’s negative effects reduce globally and everything begins to fall into place again,” said the president.

Highlighting the continued flow of investment into Turkey, Erdogan said: “Turkey, which could not even take a step without the IMF [International Monetary Fund] 18 years ago, is now the world’s 13th largest country based on purchasing power parity.”

“We are the leader in agricultural output in all of Europe,” he added./aa

DHAKA, Bangladesh

Bangladesh’s government has restored the high-speed mobile network and internet for the Rohingya refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar.

The 3G and 4G mobile networks and internet were restored on Friday amid repeated calls from UN agencies and rights groups to uphold the basic rights of the persecuted Rohingya, about 1 million of whom fled to southeastern Bangladesh after a 2017 crackdown by Myanmar’s military.

Following inter-ministerial meetings, Bangladesh’s government took the decision to restore the mobile network about a year after its suspension.

A task force formed by the government Wednesday sent a letter to the Post and Telecommunication Ministry, restoring the services, officials said.

“Following the government decision, the 3G and 4G mobile network and the internet have been restored today,” Md. Mahbub Alam Talukder, Bangladesh’s refugee relief and repatriation commissioner (RRRC), told Anadolu Agency.

“Various mobile network service companies have already started providing high-speed mobile and internet services.”

Restoration of the service is important for better services to the Rohingya people amid the pandemic, said the commissioner.

Earlier, he had urged the government to provide digital communications services to the 1.2 million displaced Rohingya Muslims in Cox’s Bazar.

In September 2019 Bangladesh imposed a ban on the use of cellphone SIM cards and the internet by Rohingya refugees on security grounds. Since then, rights groups, UN agencies, and Rohingya refugees repeatedly asked for the restoration. Some Rohingya, however, continued to use mobile SIM cards in secret.

- COVID-19 cases in refugee camps top 100

Meanwhile, coronavirus cases in Rohingya refugee camps topped the 100 mark with six new infections in the past 24 hours, according to an official update released Friday.

Another 47 people died from the lethal virus in the last 24 hours in Bangladesh, raising the total casualties to 4,174. Some 2,211 new infections were recorded in the past day, bringing the total number of infections to 306,794, according to the South Asian country’s health ministry./aa

KOCAELI, Turkey 

Turkey aims to become a hub for battery production with its investments in battery modules, packages and cells, a senior official said Friday.

To reach this goal, the country will support electric-electronic firms' investments in the automotive sector, Industry and Technology Minister Mustafa Varank told a ceremony by Korean automotive giant Hyundai that marked the launch of mass production of i20 model automobiles in Turkey's industrial province of Kocaeli.

Hyundai's Turkey factory will cover half of all i20 output across the globe, with 90% of all vehicles produced to be exported, Varank noted.

The minister also said Turkey aims to create an ecosystem to produce critical parts like electric engines, inverters, charging devices and compressors.

Turkey, which has developed a battery-powered car, SUV, tractor and excavator over the past one year, has its sights set on electricity-powered vehicle technologies.

Varank underlined that the automotive sector is the locomotive for Turkey's industry sector and offers advantages for other sectors as well, with industrial production expanding with double-digits in May and June.

He also said Turkey had disbursed 1,200 investment incentive certificates during the first six months of the year worth 108 billion Turkish liras ($16.7 billion) and generating 163,000 new jobs.

On economic confidence index data for August that was released Friday, Varank stressed: "The positive trend is continuing, our citizens' expectations more positive for the post-pandemic period."

Varank highlighted that Turkey aims to be the largest electric and autonomous vehicle producer in Europe and among the top-five in the world by 2030./aa

Criminal networks are profiting from an "overwhelming" surge in plastic waste being shipped from rich countries to Asia and stoking pollution by burning and dumping waste that was supposed to be recycled, a report by Interpol said Thursday. 

Plastic consumption has exploded in the last decade, with some 360 million metric tons of waste generated just in 2018, mainly by wealthier nations, Interpol said.

At least 8 million tons of plastic are thought to end up in oceans every year.  

Some countries have imposed recycling targets, rising above 30 percent in Europe, and the report said this had helped drive a lucrative market for used plastic that is projected to reach $50.36 billion by 2022.  


But it has also spurred unscrupulous operators to cash in on an industry that is difficult to police, Interpol said, adding there was an "urgent" need to identify how criminals were exploiting loopholes in regulation.  

The France-based intergovernmental crime-fighting agency said organised criminal networks use legitimate pollution management businesses as a cover for illegal operations, and that waste crime was behind environmental destruction and even murder.

"Global plastic pollution is one of the most pervasive environmental threats to the planet today, and its correct regulation and management is of critical importance to global environmental security," said Calum MacDonald, who heads Interpol's Environmental Compliance and Enforcement Committee Advisory Board, in a statement. 

- 'Artificial' recycling rates -

The report, written with input from 40 countries, said that many recycling targets were impossible to verify given the "poor visibility" into whether waste was in fact recycled. 

This is of particular concern in countries that do not have the capacity to process even their own domestic rubbish and struggle to enforce regulations.

Interpol said some major destination countries report high waste mismanagement rates, including India (87 percent), Indonesia (83 percent) and Malaysia (57 percent). 

"Those numbers indicate that exporting nations may report artificially high recycling rate for their plastic waste, while in fact strong uncertainties remain on how plastic waste shipped overseas is treated," the report said. 

Illicit shipments of waste -- from homes and supermarkets in Europe and North America among others -- have surged towards South and Southeast Asian nations in the last two years after restrictions on imports were tightened in China in early 2018. 

As the market shrank in China, which previously processed almost half the world's plastic waste, firms moved their business to neighbouring countries, the report said, adding that the quantities of waste had proved "overwhelming" for some nations.

- World's 'garbage dump' -

It said this had spurred growing illegal waste treatment in emerging destination countries, with a pronounced increase in plastic waste being diverted to unauthorised recycling facilities. 

An example is the small town of Jenjarom, not far from Kuala Lumpur in Malaysia, where plastic processing plants suddenly appeared in large numbers in 2018, with huge mounds of waste piled up in the open and burned, pumping out noxious fumes.

Several Southeast Asian nations are trying to push back on this onslaught of international refuse, but Interpol said efforts to repatriate waste remain "long and challenging" and shipments can end up stuck in ports for months or even years. 

Earlier this year Malaysia sent back dozens of shipping containers of plastic waste to mostly wealthier nations, saying it would not be the world's "garbage dump".

Challenges include identifying where the waste has come from, as networks re-route illegal shipments and use transit countries to disguise their origin, Interpol said. 

It warned that even as restrictions tighten in some nations, traders would re-route shipments to "new and vulnerable countries", noting illegal plastic waste shipments had already been detected heading towards Laos and Myanmar. 

- Plastic planet -

The illegal activity does not only touch Asian nations. 

Interpol said organised crime groups were operating in parts of Europe, warning that related waste crimes were becoming "more complex and increasingly threatening".

In France, it said the mayor of the town of Signes was murdered in August 2019 for trying to prevent illegal waste being dumped.

The report said greater international cooperation was needed to curb waste crime, even as rules are set to be tightened from 2021.

Commenting on the research, WWF-International called for "systemic change and greater accountability" in the way plastic waste is used and disposed of.  

"Waste crime is a rising threat with roots in a more fundamental problem: the inability to manage our plastic use and production," said Eirik Lindebjerg, global plastics policy manager at WWF-International./AFP

•        The health benefits of turmeric include reducing inflammation, acting as an antioxidant, and possibly helping to treat some types of cancer.

•        Research suggests that turmeric may also improve the appearance of skin and help alleviate depression.

•        Turmeric's health benefits come from its active ingredient curcumin, which is known for its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties.

•        This article was medically reviewed by Samantha Cassetty, MS, RD, nutrition and wellness expert with a private practice based in New York City.

Turmeric has been a staple in traditional medicine for thousands of years. Now, modern science has confirmed some of the spice's health benefits, from its anti-inflammatory properties to its role as an antioxidant.

Curcumin — an active chemical that gives turmeric its yellow color — is responsible for most of these benefits, but it is difficult for the body to absorb. Therefore, turmeric's health perks are difficult to measure. So far, neither turmeric, nor its active component curcumin, have been approved as a treatment for any disease.

Here are some of the health benefits of turmeric and tips to incorporate more of it into your diet:

1. Turmeric reduces inflammation

Inflammation is a natural response of the immune system, and it occurs each time the body is injured. Inflammation isolates an injured area from nearby healthy tissue by wrapping it in a shield of white blood cells as a part of the body's healing process.

However, in some instances, your body's inflammatory response is set off without an injury or acute situation. If inflammation becomes chronic or excessive, it may lead to lasting damage and an array of chronic diseases, from heart disease to diabetes.

Symptoms of acute inflammation include:

•        Redness

•        Tenderness

•        Pain

•        Swelling

•        Warmth of the wounded area

A 2017 medical review published in Foods found that curcumin relieved inflammation in patients with osteoarthritis — a chronic disease characterized by joint stiffness and occasional inflammation. Patients who took 1000mg of curcumin a day for eight to 12 weeks saw a reduction in inflammation symptoms like morning stiffness, joint swelling, pain, and motor capacity.

2. Turmeric is an antioxidant

The 2018 medical review published in the European Journal of Medicinal Chemistry found that curcumin acts as an antioxidant. Antioxidants are stable molecules that counterbalance the effects of free radicals in the body. Free radicals come from both natural metabolic processes like digestion and outside sources like pollution or cigarette smoke.

When the number of free radicals and antioxidants are balanced in the body, free radicals help fight off pathogens. However, when the balance tips, and there are more free radicals than antioxidants, oxidative stress occurs.

Oxidative stress is when free radicals start damaging proteins, fatty tissues, and cell DNA. Over time, this continuous damage may lead to diseases like diabetes and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer's and Parkinson's.

A 2010 study published in Clinical Biochemistry found that in 21 patients with b-thalassemia/Hb E — an inherited blood disorder — 500mg of curcuminoids a day for 12 months reduced oxidative stress levels.

3. Turmeric may help treat cancer

Many research studies on curcumin have focused on its potential to treat or alleviate symptoms of different types of cancer. Because there is a correlation between chronic inflammation and the development of cancer, curcumin's anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties may prove beneficial in fighting the disease.

In fact, a 2019 medical review published in Nutrients found that curcumin may prevent the proliferation of breast cancer cells, thereby slowing tumor growth. The same review found that curcumin is being explored as a treatment for lung, colorectal, pancreatic and some other types of cancer. While results are inconclusive, studies have found promising results in test tube and animal studies.

The biggest obstacle in using curcumin in cancer treatment is the human body's inability to absorb it in any significant quantities. Pharmacologists are working to overcome this obstacle, but until they succeed, neither turmeric nor curcumin is used to treat cancer.

4. Turmeric may boost heart health

A 2020 study published in the Journal of Clinical Medicine found that healthy participants who consumed between 80 to 4,000 mg of curcumin per day saw key heart health indicators improve. This included a decrease in the amount of fat in their blood as well as a drop in both their total cholesterol and LDL cholesterol.

While consuming 4,000 mg of curcumin a day is a lot, there are currently no known side effects associated with the compound. However, if you are on blood thinners, consult with a doctor before consuming large amounts of curcumin as it is known to thin blood and prevent clotting.

5. Turmeric may alleviate depression and promote brain function

According to the results of a 2018 study published in the European Journal of Medical Chemistry, consuming 500 to 1000mg of curcumin daily for at least six weeks improved symptoms of depression and reduced anxiety in multiple clinical trials.

Scientists have also investigated whether or not curcumin could potentially treat or prevent the development of debilitating neurodegenerative disorders such as Alzheimer's.

According to a 2008 review published in the Annals of Indian Academy of Neurology, curcumin may be effective in managing factors that could lead to the development of Alzheimer's. These include inflammation, oxidative stress, and the formation of beta-amyloid plaques — an accumulation of small fibers — in the brain.

6. Turmeric promotes healthy skin

Thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, curcumin may even improve the appearance of skin.

A 2007 medical review published in Advances in Experimental Medicine and Biology found that curcumin also had wound-healing properties, possibly making it a good treatment for skin conditions like vitiligo, psoriasis, and various eczemas.

Topical tonics and ointments containing curcumin reduced the time it took for skin wounds to heal, improved the distribution of collagen — the protein that gives skin its elasticity — and promoted the growth of new blood vessels.

How to get enough turmeric in your diet

While The National Institute of Health has not set a daily recommendation for turmeric or curcumin intake, studies have found that a safe daily allowance is 3mg/kg of curcumin.

Despite all the health potential of curcumin, its percentage in turmeric is quite modest, between 3% to 6%, which means that each tablespoon of turmeric powder contains less than 0.4g of the active ingredient. And, only a minuscule amount of that is being absorbed into the bloodstream.

There are, however, simple ways to ensure your body is absorbing it better. Nutritionist and cook book author Velonda Anderson, PhD, suggests toasting turmeric powder, combining it with fats, or mixing it with black pepper, which can improve absorption by up to 2000%.

For those wondering how to incorporate turmeric into their diet, Anderson suggests:

•        Adding a teaspoon of it to a smoothie

•        Sprinkling it on top of salads

•        Incorporating turmeric paste to stews and curries

Turmeric supplements

Another way to add turmeric into your diet is by taking supplements. Most turmeric and curcumin supplements on the market are in 500mg capsules. These are meant to be consumed up to three times daily, with or without food.

Anderson recommends talking to your primary care provider before committing to a higher dosage of curcumin. "Even though there are no known allergies or side effects associated with turmeric, some medications and pre-existing conditions are worth discussing," Anderson says.


Turmeric's active ingredient curcumin provides a variety of health benefits thanks to its anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties. From reducing the chance of developing cardiovascular disease to possibly warding off certain cancers, curcumin should be a part of any healthy diet.

While researchers are still seeking out ways to improve our body's ability to absorb curcumin, you can easily add turmeric to your diet by sprinkling it on foods you already eat.

 Business Insider

In the early days of August, the Columbia County School District outside Augusta, Georgia, was determined to open its schools.

Despite a regional surge of COVID-19 cases early that month, the system of 28,000 students was among the first districts in America to put people back in classrooms, on Aug. 3.

The reason was pretty straightforward, said Superintendent Sandra Carraway: The vast majority of Columbia County parents said they wanted schools open. Waiting wasn't going to make anything better, she added, and the district offered a learn-from-home option as an alternative.

"We're doing very well," Carraway said at the end of the third week of classes.

Many teachers disagree. Forty-six students and 28 staff have tested positive for the virus, and 542 people have had to quarantine since school started, according to district figures as of Aug. 21. Teachers are trying to juggle students who come to school, those who opted for virtual learning, and those lost in the middle because of quarantine or because their parents switched them from in-person to virtual as outbreaks sprang up.

In-person school reopenings have been pushed by President Donald Trump, Republican politicians and many parents. But the experience of Columbia County and other districts that opened buildings this month shows a more complicated reality.

In many of these districts, large percentages of children are actually learning at home — because their parents chose virtual learning or because of a quarantine. Hybrid schedules also keep children at home on specific days or weeks.

"The reality is there is no one solution that fits everyone," said Cindy Mitchell, a parent of three children in Columbia County, all of whom are learning from home. She said she's acted as a whistleblower of sorts on behalf of local teachers who fear retribution from the district if they speak publicly about lax safety protocols and disorganization in reopening.

For example, staff and teachers are often confused about who's infected and who's merely under quarantine. Until recently, Columbia County administrators only alerted certain people to the cases. Some teachers told USA TODAY they only found out students in their classrooms had tested positive once parents posted the administrative notice they received to a Facebook group.

"Tracking attendance is a huge problem," said Judie Stork, a Spanish teacher at Lakeside High School in Columbia County.

Because kids keep moving around and class sizes keep changing, Stork sometimes teaches up to 20 students inside a modular trailer. Social distancing is difficult.

"It worries me that we're not always able to skip desks because of the numbers in some classes," she said.

'Boom — you get shut down'

The rest of America's schools will lurch into a new pandemic school year over the next few weeks.

Among urban districts, almost 80% will open remote-only, according to a new report from the Center on Reinventing Public Education, an education research organization in Washington. Those districts often serve communities of color, which have been disproportionately hammered by the virus. Polling shows many Black parents would prefer to learn from home.

In the suburbs, there's more support for in-person learning: Only about 34% of suburban districts plan to start remote-only, according to the center's report.

Back-to-school decisions: Parents torn as some schools face greater reopening risks

Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, has said reopening schools is best for kids, but districts shouldn't bring people together if the rate of local positive virus cases exceeds 10%.

"You go in, people get infected, and — boom — you get shut down," Fauci said in a webinar hosted by Healthline, a medical news website.

That's been the problem in Georgia.

Columbia County had a 12.6% positive rate among coronavirus tests as of Aug. 24.

The state has the second-highest rate of new COVID-19 infections, according to the latest White House coronavirus task force report obtained by the Atlanta Journal-Constitution and other news sites. That's actually an improvement. Georgia has dropped to 167 infections for every 100,000 people, from a previous 216. The national average is 93.

Georgia schools made headlines for other high-profile coronavirus outbreaks this month. The Cherokee County School District north of Atlanta had to quarantine hundreds of students after an outbreak, a number that grew to more than 2,000. In Dallas, Georgia, a photo of maskless high school students in hallways went viral. Days later, the high school had to temporarily shut down because of positive cases among students and staff.

Georgia's largest school district, Gwinnett County Schools, quarantined hundreds of employees even before students returned Aug. 12 because of an outbreak among staff during in-person planning.

In Columbia County, middle and high school students are required to wear masks during passing periods and when social distancing isn't possible. Some teachers told USA TODAY they can't do anything if students let them dangle or take them off in class.

Elementary school students, who have returned for in-person instruction five days a week, are not required to wear masks.

"Initially, we received no guidance that suggested they should," Carraway said.

In late July, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended students wear masks, practice social distancing and wash their hands frequently in reopened schools.

Hundreds in quarantine

Teachers and students in reopened schools across the country are navigating new safety protocols.

"It's a challenge for everyone involved," said Tanya Hickson, a math teacher at Duval County Public Schools in Jacksonville, Florida, which opened Aug. 20. She posted a photo on Twitter of plexiglass dividers between closely packed student desks.

But the district requires masks, and students are good about wearing them, she said.

About 500 of the 1,200 students at Hickson's magnet school, Darnell-Cookman Middle-High School, have elected to return for a mix of in-person and at-home learning. The other students are learning virtually.

"I’m happy to see the faces of old students and get to know new students," Hickson said. "But it’s a lot of anxiety. It’s hard to not express that in front of the kids."

The risks of an outbreak are real.

In Tennessee, 97 virus cases were linked to the 109 districts that had started the year as of Aug. 13, most with in-person instruction.

In Florida, Martin County Schools sent more than 300 students home to quarantine because of virus cases within the first two weeks of school. Seminole County schools quarantined 175 students and staff after being open less than two weeks, the Orlando Sentinel reported. A minority of students in that district — 44% — are coming to in-person classes because of safety concerns.

Several schools in Indiana opened for in-person instruction and then shut down temporarily because of outbreaks. Avon Community Schools outside of Indianapolis opened July 29, only to revert to online learning for high school students because of positive cases. The school is now using both in-person and online learning, with students alternating between the two to reduce class sizes.

"You’re trying to keep track of kids who are COVID-positive, because they need lessons," said Suzy Lebo, a computer science teacher at Avon High School. "You’re also providing lessons to in-person people. And now we have kids dropping in-person and going to virtual because of situations happening at the school."

"There's a lot of fluidity."

Maskless students, missing students

Georgia was the first state to reopen its businesses, on April 24, and its governor has actively fought a mask mandate.

In Columbia County, as COVID-19 cases increased this summer, the number of parents that elected to have their kids learn in-person dropped from 85% to about 75%, according to the district.

Carraway, the superintendent, said the number of parents choosing in-person learning has remained steady since school started. Some teachers told USA TODAY dozens of their school's students have switched to learn-from-home; others reported just a couple have switched.

The logistics of attendance, class sizes and scheduling have challenged teachers at the middle and high schools. To enable social distancing, students attending in-person come every other day, according to where their name falls in the alphabet. But that hasn't made for an even split; a teacher may have seven students in class one day and the other 18 classmates the next.

Rosters are constantly changing. It's not always clear if a child is absent from in-person class because he or she is sick, or quarantining, or has switched from in-person learning to online classes and is therefore learning from a different teacher. Teachers say they wonder if some absent students have even been in touch with an instructor.

Carraway said they expected virus cases, but that parents wanted in-person learning, and science shows being in school is best for kids. The dissatisfied teachers are not representative of the district, she said. Many have reached out to share their approval.

Jannette Thomas, a science teacher at Grove Town High School, said all her students keep their masks on, and she has a large room that lets everyone spread out.

"Things are not utopia," added Danielle Starcher, a music teacher at River Ridge Elementary who travels room to room now, tapping out beats with children on disposable paper plates or plastic cups rather than shared instruments.

"Given the circumstances, we’re stepping up to the plate and doing the best we can."

Carraway added that older students are likely being more responsible wearing masks and sitting separately during lunch in school than they would be if they were learning from home.

"The vast majority of people are going out and doing things, and schools are probably the safest place students can be outside of isolation," she said.

Many Columbia County parents say they're happy schools are open. In fact, Caroline Washburn, a mother of daughters in middle and high school, said she wishes they could go every day.

Local private schools are providing instruction five days a week at all grade levels, which Washburn said she and her husband would prefer.

"When you go back to school, you’re going to have a rise in cases," Washburn said. "I’m hopeful that after the holidays, we do go back to a full-time attendance schedule. I can’t imagine this being the new normal."

A different approach next door

Next door, the Richmond County School District in Augusta is still waiting to open its schools.

More than 84% of the district's approximate 30,000 students are people of color, predominantly Black students. The rate of positive COVID-19 tests is currently 15.9% — well into the zone Fauci suggested would not be safe for reopening schools.

Already, 89 Richmond County employees have contracted the virus, according to the district. Two have died. The school board will decide on Sept. 1. whether students who wish to return face-to-face will be allowed to on Sept. 8, or if all children will start remotely instead, according to Richmond County school officials.

Whenver Richmond opens for in-person instruction, more than half of students won't be there. About 54% of parents have signaled they want to virtual instruction, according to the district.

Wayne Frazier, a Richmond County school board member and former school principal, said that's a good development, as there will be more space for kids to spread out in school buildings.

"We have a lot of single parents and a lot of working parents," Frazier said. "No answer is going to fit everyone."

One of those single, working parents is Mary Morning, who lives in Augusta and has two boys headed into fifth and sixth grades. Even though her younger son has special learning needs and she'll have to work from home again to monitor their progress, Morning thinks virtual education is the safer choice.

She regrets they'll miss orchestra and school sports teams, though.

"It's a lose-lose decision," she said./US TODAY

One of Myanmar's five million young adults, May Thandar Maung had been excited to cast her ballot for the very first time in November's election.

But the 18-year-old is Muslim and says that means she will remain voiceless.

"My religion means I haven't been able to get an ID card," she tells AFP in her hometown of Meiktila in central Myanmar -- and no ID means no vote.

She describes how local officials have obstructed her attempts for over a year, while Buddhist peers faced no such delays, in a town where memories of brutal inter-communal violence in 2013 are still raw. 

The majority-Buddhist nation is widely expected to return Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) party to power on November 8 in the second polls since Myanmar emerged from outright military rule in 2011.

The country's Rohingya Muslims -- whether in Bangladeshi refugee shelters or confined to camps and villages in Myanmar -- will nearly all be completely disenfranchised.

But Myanmar also has many more Muslims of other ethnic heritage -- about four percent of the population -- whom the country, in theory, accepts as citizens.

In practice, however, it can be very different.

Muslims complained to AFP of systemic corruption, detailing how they are forced to pay backhanders of hundreds of dollars -- exorbitant rates in a country where a quarter of the population lives in poverty.

Three members of Maung Cho's family had to pay US$370 each, the 53-year-old says, many times higher than the token sums of 'tea money' demanded of Buddhists.

- 'Mixed bloods' -

Their experiences are echoed by Muslims across the country, says Yangon-based analyst David Mathieson.

"Anti-Muslim sentiment is ever-present with discrimination in schools, the workplace and access to government jobs," he says.

Challenges continue even for those who obtain an ID in a country where these cards state the holder's ethnicity.

Many Muslims say false ethnic identities, usually from South Asia, are increasingly being foisted on the community.

Maung Cho's family has lived in Myanmar for generations, yet when his renewed ID card came back, it labelled him as "Indian-Muslim".

"It must have been my beard," he tells AFP, ruefully.

Like other so-called "mixed bloods", he now faces extra scrutiny at every ID check and must even stand in a separate queue at immigration offices.

Myanmar Hindus -- who number about 250,000 -- are also often branded as "mixed bloods" and face similar problems.

Yangon-based Tun Min, 28, tells AFP it took him 10 years to get an ID card. 

Last week he chose to speak out, posting a video on Facebook explaining the discrimination his community faces.

"I drove a taxi for eight years but only used to work at night because I couldn't apply for a licence without an ID card."

- The 'B' word -

The least desirable label, however, is "Bengali", a pejorative term normally used to refer to the persecuted Rohingya.

Myanmar faces charges of genocide at the UN's top court after the military drove out about 750,000 Rohingya in a supposed crackdown on militants in 2017.

Many of the 600,000 who remain in Myanmar live in what Amnesty International calls "apartheid" conditions, refused citizenship and deprived of rights.

Mathieson says there have been numerous reports in recent years of other Muslims across Myanmar also being coerced into adopting "Bengali" as an identity.

He blames "racist and discriminatory" bureaucratic procedures rather than an official policy but warns the government has not tried to stamp the practice out.

The NLD has "more important agendas than pursuing a reverse engineering of a racist system many of their supporters are comfortable with". 

An immigration department official, asking not to be named, refuted allegations of corruption and discrimination, insisting ID cards were granted in accordance with the law.

- Progress? -

But Maung Cho says he thinks racism against Muslims is worse now than under the military junta, describing his community as "disappointed and depressed".

Many people he knows feel so disillusioned they plan not to vote in the upcoming election.

A campaign to boycott the vote is gathering pace.

Former student leader and political prisoner Sithu Maung is one of just two Muslims out of 1,143 NLD candidates. In 2015, the party fielded no Muslim candidates at all.

He says he understands his community's disappointment but denies times are worse than under the military.

"They should be optimistic about the future. The NLD has only had five years in power."

But optimism is in short supply among young people like May Thandar Maung.

"Even though I was born here, I can’t vote and that's discrimination," she says./AFP