MANCHESTER, England — Cardinal Charles Bo of Yangon, Myanmar, has defended his country’s leader in the face of global criticism over the alleged ethnic cleansing of the Rohingya minority.

Bo said Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor, still represented the best hope that Myanmar would emerge from a military dictatorship into a democracy.

He suggested that she did not have the power to stop the expulsion of the primarily Muslim Rohingya from the Buddhist-majority nation.

“As we know, her role has come under scorching criticism,” he said in a message to the 24th World Congress of the Apostleship of the Sea, which took place in Taiwan Oct. 2-6.

“Her status is not official under the constitution,” he said, adding, “As long as Daw Aung San Suu Kyi continues, we have hope. She is a strong woman with strong principles.

“Despite the piercing criticisms of the international community, Myanmar depends on her for many compassionate responses,” he said.

“Our perception is that she is trying to stabilize the fragile democracy,” the cardinal continued. “Democracy is hard won and it took 60 years to reach where the country is.”

Excerpts of the cardinal’s message were released Oct. 6 by the United Kingdom branch of Aid to the Church in Need.

Defending the Nobel Peace Prize winner, Bo said: “The army, like the Thai army, has no patience with democracy and grabbed power from democracy thrice already in Myanmar.

“I think Daw Aung San Suu Kyi has an agenda to pull the country from the grips of the army which controls 25 percent of the parliamentary — and also the important — ministries. This is a tightrope walk and she is trying her best,” he said.

“Having said that, it is very unfortunate that the recent events did not show her in a good light,” he added. “She should have spoken on behalf of the victims, especially so many women and children forced to leave under such painful circumstances. She lost the support of the international community by her silence.”

Suu Kyi faced criticism following a speech in September in which she denied that the government had authorized the destruction of Rohingya settlements following a series of attacks on police stations.

More than 420,000 Rohingya have fled across the border to Bangladesh for safety since late August when the Myanmar military began retaliating after attacks on security check posts by militants from the Arakan Rohingya Salvation Army. The conflict has resulted in more than 1,000 Rohingya deaths, dozens of houses burned and countless women being raped.