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Myanmar imposes emergency rule as death toll hits 20

Meiktila, Mar 23  (): Myanmar has imposed a state of emergency on Friday in the Meiktila town following three days of communal violence between Buddhists and Muslims that have killed 20 people.

Mobs have set fire to Muslim homes and mosques killing at least 20 people and leaving more than 6,000 homeless and the violence has sparked fears of spreading unrest.

The state of emergency was declared on Friday afternoon by President Thein Sein in Meikhtila, which is about 550 km north of the main city of Yangon. The declaration allows the military to take over administrative functions in and around the town.

Meikhtila is about 550 kilometers north of the main city of Yangon with a population of about 100,000 people, of which about a third are Muslims, Win Htein, MP of Meiktila from the opposition National League for Democracy said.

Win said before this week’s violence, the community in Meikhtila had 17 mosques. He added that at least five mosques were burned down since the violence started on Wednesday. After the violence, 1,200 Muslim families with at least 6,000 people have fled their homes and taken refuge at a stadium and a police station.

Win told many people mostly Buddhists accused of being involved in the violence had been arrested by police. He said that violence that recurred on Friday morning has now receded, although the atmosphere in Meiktila remains tense.

The destruction due to the communal violence was similar to the last year incident in western Myanmar, where sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left hundreds of people dead. More than 100,000 people are still displaced from that conflict, almost all of them Muslims.

Scattered isolated violent incidents linking Myanmar’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities have been occuring for decades.

The violence has occurred as Myanmar struggles with worsening tensions between Buddhists and Muslims that has spoiled international optimism over the intense political reforms since the end of military rule two years ago.