Myanmar riots stoke fears of more sectarian violence
YANGON - Reuters
A resident watches as black smoke rises from burning houses in riot-hit Meiktila. President Sein declared a state of emergency in the province. AFP photoUnrest between Buddhists and Muslims in central Myanmar has reduced neighborhoods to ashes and stoked fears that last year’s sectarian bloodshed is spreading into the country’s heartland in a test of Asia’s newest democracy.
Buildings in Meikhtila were still burning early March 22 and agitated Buddhist crowds roamed the otherwise near-deserted streets after three days of turbulence, in the city 540 kilometers north of the commercial capital Yangon.
Rioting between Buddhists and Muslims has killed at least 20 and left residents too afraid to walk the streets. It erupted after an argument between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim owners of a gold shop spiraled into a riot involving hundreds of people, said police.
In an acknowledgement of the seriousness of the situation, President Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in Meikhtila. The United Nations warned the sectarian unrest could endanger a fragile reform program launched after Myanmar’s quasi-civilian government replaced a decades-old military dictatorship in 2011.
Jailed dissidents have been released, a free election held and censorship lifted in Myanmar’s historic democratic transition. But the government has faced mounting criticism over its failure to stop the bloodshed between Buddhists and Muslims.
Compiled from Reuters and AP stories by the Daily News staff.