A state of emergency has swept over Burma following two days of violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in a central town that have left at least twenty people dead.
The BBC reports that the violence began with an argument in a gold shop that escalated quickly. The Guardian reports that a Buddhist monk was killed, sparking tensions and leading a Buddhist mob to terrorize a Muslim neighborhood. Angry Buddhist residents and monks have set fire to Muslim homes and prevented emergency crews from getting access to the buildings. Residents have taken shelter in monasteries and other locations away from the violence.
Meikhtila is over 300 miles north of the city of Rangoon, Burma’s former capital, and has a population of around 100,000 people. Muslims make up a third of the population. The country’s population as a whole is also predominantly Buddhist.
Residents are too afraid to leave their shelters to measure the scale of the destruction. Many are too afraid to walk in the streets, and at least five mosques have been burned thus far. Groups of people patrol the streets with knives and sticks.
Violence has sparked between Burma’s Buddhist and Muslim communities for decades. This week’s violence is the largest outbreak since clashes between Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in the western state of Rakhine left over 200 people dead and displaced over 100,000. Rohingya Muslims are not recognized as Burmese citizens.
Burma, with a population of over 60 million, is the second largest country in Southeast Asia. The country has existed under military rule since a coup in 1962. The country has been criticized for human rights abuses ranging from genocide and systematic rape to the use of child soldiers, slavery, and human trafficking. In 2011, the Burmese government released the country’s most prominent human rights activist, Aung San Suu Kyi, improving the country’s foreign relationships with the US, Europe, and Japan.
Police have failed to regain control of the streets since the violent clash between Burmese Buddhists and Muslims began.
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