Mandalay (AsiaNews / Agencies) - Overnight groups of Buddhists aboard motorcycles prowled the streets of Mandalay, Myanmar, hurling rocks and stones at mosques and shops owned by Muslims. The escalation of Muslim-Buddhist sectarian violence and tensions continues in the second most populous city in former Burma, which started two days ago and according to official sources have already caused at least two deaths and dozens of injuries.
A Muslim man, was killed at dawn while he was heading to the mosque. A group of people attacked him and left him on the ground in agony. The second victim instead was a Buddhist, but there has been no official confirmation and the police have launched an investigation.
Myanmar, a large majority Buddhist nation, since 2012 is bleak in a long series of sectarian violence that has so far caused over 280 deaths and at least 140 thousand displaced persons; Most of the victims are Muslim Rohingyas, in the western state of Rakhine, the epicenter of the clash between the two religions, targeted by Buddhist extremists.
However, the attacks that erupted on the night of July 2 are one of the most serious to have ever occurred in Mandalay, in central Myanmar. The clashes could give rise to a long streak of blood in the historic city, symbolic of Buddhist culture and tradition, but which is also home to a large Muslim community. Moreover, the two realities had lived together in a harmonious and peaceful coexistence for decades, without any incidents of a sectarian nature.
The violence between the two groups erupted July 1, following rumors - unconfirmed - of the rape of a Buddhist woman perpetrated by the Muslim owner of a tea shop; the police have not confirmed or denied the sexual assault, but suggested the trader close before the end of the day's activities, for fear of retaliation.
The Burmese authorities have allocated hundreds of police after a crowd of more than 300 Buddhist headed in the direction of the tea shop, singing the national anthem. Police fired rubber bullets and tried to disperse the crowd, which split into small groups and engaged in street battles with security forces. The protesters hurled stones at a mosque, causing some minor damage; others looted some shops owned by Muslims. Cars were burned and windows broken with stones and rocks.
After a day of relative calm yesterday evening the clashes resumed and continued throughout the night. Many are blaming the police and local authorities, unable to maintain order and ensure the safety of citizens, terrified of possible attacks by extremist Buddhists.
In a radio address to the nation, the Burmese President Thein Sein urged people to stay calm and to end sectarian hatred. "As a multi-racial and multi-religious nation, the current reform process will be successful only if it stability through cooperation between citizens living in harmony with each other is ensured".
In 2011, the former Burma ended decades of military dictatorship with the birth of a semi-civilian government, however, still supported by the military leadership. But the process of transition to a more democratic model is being undermined by sectarian violence. Muslims are 4% of a total of 60 million inhabitants.