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Sectarian violence rages on in Burma

Sectarian violence erupted for a third day in Burma on Friday as a Buddhist mob clashed with local Muslims in the town of Meikhtila, killing at least 20 people and displacing thousands. The president has declared a state of emergency.

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The death toll from a vicious explosion of sectarian bloodshed in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar rose to at least 20 on Friday.

The violence erupted between local Buddhist and Muslim residents on Wednesday in the central city of Meikhtila, where black smoke and flames poured from destroyed buildings.

The president has declared a state of emergency, as thousands of minority Muslims flee the area, and overwhelmed riot police crisscross the ruined streets of a still burning city seizing machetes and hammers from angry mobs.

Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighbourhoods, where whole plots were reduced to smouldering masses of twisted debris.

Broken glass, destroyed motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burnt-out homes and shops.

The troubles in Meikhtila began on Wednesday after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.

A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim neighbourhood.

Violence continued on Thursday, and by Friday, Win Htein, a local lawmaker from the opposition National League for Democracy, said he had counted at least 20 bodies.

He said 1,200 Muslim families - at least 6,000 people - have fled their homes and taken refuge at a stadium and a police station.

The unrest is the latest challenge to Myanmar’s ever-precarious transition to democratic rule.

The devastation in Meikhtila, where at least five mosques have been torched by angry mobs, was reminiscent of strikingly similar scenes last year in western Myanmar, where sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya left hundreds of people dead and more than 100,000 displaced.

(AP)

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