Mystic's followers wants own country

CNN News/June 5, 2001

Paramaribo, Suriname -- Followers of Maharishi Mahesh Yogi want to establish a 3,500-hectare (8,645-acre) sovereign state on rural land in the South American country of Suriname.

The government of Suriname, a former Dutch colony, has so far not accepted the Maharishi International University of Management's offer to invest $1.3 billion over three years and provide 10,000 jobs.

Followers of the Maharishi Mahesh Yogi -- known in the 1960s for teaching the Beatles transcendental meditation -- want to lease the land in the district of Commewijne for at least 200 years to set up their agricultural society.

The land, about 40 kilometers (25 miles) northeast of the capital, Paramaribo, had previously been used for farming by a now-bankrupt government agricultural foundation.

The group wants to set up what it calls a "Global Country of World Peace," with its own currency, central bank and jurisdiction, said Winston Wirht, vice president of the university's Maharishi Council for Economic Development of Suriname.

The Ministry of Agriculture in a recent letter to the council has offered to start negotiations. However, President Ronald Venetiaan, who would have to approve such a deal, has not responded to the Maharishi council's three requests since November.

Officials in Venetiaan's office could not immediately be reached for comment. "This is something to help the Surinamese people out of poverty," Wirht said. "It is a shame that Venetiaan does not seem willing to even talk to us."

The sovereign state's main industry would be organic farming and the export of produce, Wirht said. The Maharishi followers would reward Suriname each year by giving the government 1 percent of the money the sovereign state's central bank puts into circulation, Wirht said.

"Suriname must be the first to offer. It is unimaginable what this country will gain," Wirht said. Wirht, a politician in Suriname whose Doe Party did not win any seats in last year's parliamentary elections, said the Maharishi group has been asking for similar arrangements in poor countries in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The Maharishi group has its own incorporated city in Iowa called Vedic City, where the Maharishi University of Management is based. The Maharishi Mahesh Yogi, now in his 80s, lives in the Netherlands, but Wirht said he frequently travels to the United States and India.

The group counts 5 million people worldwide who practice what the group calls transcendental meditation, a 10 to 15 minute daily technique that followers believe improves mental functioning, decreases stress and improves health. The group says it is not promoting any religion.

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