Emergency in Myanmar
20 killed, 6000 homeless in fresh anti-Rohingya riots
. BBC Online, AP
A state of emergency has been imposed in the Burmese town of Meiktila following three days of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims.
A statement announcing the decision on behalf of President Thein Sein was broadcast on state television.
He said that the move would enable the military to help restore order in the riot-hit town, south of Mandalay.
At least 20 people are reported to have been killed since the violence began, but exact figures are unclear.
AP reports add: Buddist-Muslim riots spread in Myanmar on Friday leaving 20 people dead and over 6000 homeless.
Meiktila MP Win told the BBC Burmese service that scores of mostly Buddhist people accused of being involved in the violence had been arrested by police.
He said that he saw the bodies of eight people who had been killed in violence in the town on Friday morning. Many Muslims had fled gangs of Buddhist youths, he said, while other Muslims were in hiding.
Win Thein said that that violence that recurred on Friday morning has now receded, although the atmosphere in Meiktila remains tense.
Police say that at least 15 Buddhist monks on Friday burnt down a house belonging to a Muslim family on the outskirts of the town. There are no reports of any injuries.
The disturbances began on Wednesday when an argument in a gold shop escalated quickly, with mobs setting mainly Muslim buildings alight, including some mosques.
Fighting in the streets between men from rival communities later broke out.
Meanwhile people in the town have
told the BBC of food shortages because the main market in the town has been closed for the last five days. The violence is the most serious communal clash in Burma since almost 200 people were killed last year in unrest in the western state of Rakhine.
The conflict that erupted in Rakhine involved Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims, who are not recognised as Burmese citizens. Scores of Rohingyas have fled what they say is persecution in Burma in recent months.
A local official in Meiktila said earlier this week that relations between Muslims and the Buddhist majority in the town had been strained by the violence in Rakhine.
Residents in the town have complained that police have struggled to control groups of people on the streets armed with knives and sticks. Most of these men are Buddhists, police say, angered over the death of a Buddhist monk who suffered severe burns on Wednesday.
The scenes in Meikhtila, where homes and at least five mosques have been torched by angry mobs, were reminiscent of sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that shook western Rakhine state last year, killing hundreds of people and driving more than 100,000 from their homes.
The clashes in Meikhtila - which was tense but calm Friday - are the first reported in central Myanmar since then.
Troubles began Wednesday after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim neighborhood.
Violence continued Thursday, and by Friday, Win Htein, a local lawmaker from the opposition National League for Democracy, said he had counted at least 20 bodies. He said 1,200 Muslim families - at least 6,000 people - have fled their homes and taken refuge at a stadium and a police station.
On Friday, police seized knives, swords, hammers and sticks from young men in the streets and detained scores of looters. Fires set to Muslim homes continued to burn, but angry Buddhist residents and monks prevented authorities from putting out the blazes.
It was difficult to determine the extent of destruction in the town because residents were too afraid to walk the streets and were sheltering in monasteries or other locations away from the violence.
"We don't feel safe and we have now moved inside a monastery," said Sein Shwe, a shop owner. "The situation is unpredictable and dangerous."
Some monks accosted and threatened journalists trying to cover the unrest, at one point trying to drag a group of several out of a van. One monk, whose faced was covered, shoved a foot-long dagger at the neck of an Associated Press photographer and demanded his camera. The photographer defused the situation by handing over his camera's memory card.
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