03/21/2013, 00.00
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Meikhtila: two dead, a mosque destroyed in clashes between Buddhists and Muslims

A trivial altercation between a Muslim gold trader and a Buddhist customer at the root of violence. Hundreds of people involved; allegations that the police failed to intervene to stem the onslaught. The central government on alert, fearing an escalation. Delegations of Buddhists and activists are trying to restore calm.

Yangon (AsiaNews / Agencies) - The Burmese authorities have imposed a curfew in the town of Meikhtila, on banks of the lake of the same name in Mandalay Division, central Myanmar, the scene of sectarian violence between the Buddhist majority and the Muslim minority. The unrest broke out yesterday leaving at least two dead and twenty wounded, many local businesses damaged and set on fire. The battle between the two factions, involving hundreds of people, was triggered by a trivial altercation inside jewelry shop located in the main bazaar of the city.

According to preliminary information provided by the police, the victims are 26 year old Than Myint Naing, a driver, a Buddhist monk whose name have not yet been provided. The violence erupted at 10 o'clock yesterday morning, and led to the destruction of a mosque and an Islamic school.

A trivial altercation between a Muslim gold trader and a Buddhist customer at the root of violence and a Burmese Buddhist, who entered the store with his wife to sell a gold brooch. The two men began to argue about the price of the item, attracting the attention of the crowd. The argument escalated into a real riot, which has sown death and destruction. Witnesses said there were officers in riot gear at the scene, but they did not intervene to try to contain the violence.

Meanwhile, the central government led by President Thein Sein has asked police officials to strengthen safety measures and restore order, avoiding an escalation of tension. The fear is that the outbreak of religious hatred could expand to other areas of the country. For the same reason a group of monks and activists of Mandalay and Sagain, as well as non-governmental organizations in Yangon, are headed to the area.

The clashes yesterday between Buddhists and Muslims confirm the mounting tensions between the different ethnic groups and religious denominations in Myanmar.  Last year there were violent clashes in the western state of Rakhine between Arakanesi Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims. The rape and murder of a young Buddhist sparked a spiral of terror, which caused hundreds of deaths and destroyed houses, along with thousands of refugees who have sought refuge abroad. According to United Nations estimates there are at least 800 thousand Rohingya Muslims in Myanmar, considered illegal immigrants by the central government, often victims of abuse and persecution.


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