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Uneasy calm in riot-hit Myanmar town

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A March 21 file photo showing residents walking past burning houses in Meiktila.— PHOTO: AFP
A March 21 file photo showing residents walking past burning houses in Meiktila.— PHOTO: AFP

The death toll from recent communal violence in central Myanmar has risen to 40 after eight more bodies were pulled from the wreckage during clean-up operation over the weekend, in Meiktila, state media reported on Tuesday.

In a televised statement late on Monday, Myanmar’s government had called for an end to “religious extremism” that it warned could derail the Buddhist-majority country’s reform process.

Police in the main city of Yangon have been instructed to be extra vigilant, a police officer who did not want to be named told AFP.

The quasi-civilian government has faced strong international pressure over the unrest, which according to the U.N. Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs has displaced more than 12,000 people.

The clashes — apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop — began on March 20 in Meiktila, 130 km north of Nay Pyi Taw. Dozens of people have been detained in connection with the violence, which saw armed rioters — including Buddhist monks — roam the streets, threatening journalists who visited Meiktila.

It was the worst sectarian strife since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

Fresh trouble

The bloodshed has raised fears that long-standing religious tensions that were largely suppressed during junta rule could now spread to other parts of the country.

After a state of emergency was declared on Friday and the army was sent into the area, an uneasy calm has returned to Meiktila, where a nighttime curfew has been imposed.

Elsewhere, however, there were signs of fresh trouble over the weekend with violence on Saturday night leaving more than 40 houses and a mosque in ruins in Yamethin township near Nay Pyi Taw, according to a ward official. Unrest was also reported in several other villages in the area. — AFP


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