Yangon (AsiaNews/Agencies) - Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims continue in the city of Meikhtila, where a curfew has been in place since yesterday. Overnight Buddhists attacked mosques and Muslim homes. The death toll now stands at 20 people and at least five religious buildings have been set on fire. Several Buddhist monks have apparently prevented the authorities from putting out fires to save people trapped in buildings.
Fighting began after a Muslim gold shop owner and a Buddhist customer got into an argument. The latter had come into the store with his wife to sell a gold brooch.
The two men began to argue over the price, attracting the attention of the crowd. When the argument escalated, it turned into a street brawl that left a trail of death and destruction, especially after a young Buddhist monk got killed.
Witnesses said that officers in anti-riot were at the scene, but did not intervene to contain the violence.
Meikhtila is localted some 550 kilometres north of the countyr's main city of Yangon and has a population of about 100,000 people, about a third Muslim. Before this week's violence, the community had 17 mosques.
Recent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims are further sign of a mounting wave of sectarian tensions across the country.
Last year, violent clashes broke out between Buddhists Arakanese and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine.
At that time, the rape and murder of a young Buddhist woman sparked a spiral of terror that left hundreds of people dead and scores of houses destroyed, not to mention thousands of refugees forced to seek refuge abroad.
According to UN estimates, at least 800,000 Rohingya Muslims live in Myanmar, but the Myanmar government considers them illegal immigrants. For this reason, they have become the victims of abuse and persecution.