Myanmar sets curfews to curb spread of violence

March 26, 2013 - 9:28 PM
Myanmar Riot

Buddhist monks walk through a street market expecting alms in Yangon, Myanmar, Tuesday, March 26, 2013. Myanmar's government warned Monday that religious violence could threaten democratic reforms after anti-Muslim mobs rampaged through three more towns in the country's predominantly Buddhist heartland. The mobs destroyed mosques and burned dozens of homes over the weekend despite attempts by the government to stem the nation's latest outbreak of sectarian violence. (AP Photo/Gemunu Amarasinghe)

YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Authorities in Myanmar imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three townships after anti-Muslim religious violence touched new parts of the country, edging closer to the main city of Yangon.

State television Tuesday reported incidents in the three townships in Bago region, all within 150 kilometers (100 miles) of Yangon. The latest attack Monday night was in Gyobingauk, where it said "troublemakers" damaged a religious building, shops and some houses.

The report said similar attacks on religious buildings, shops and houses occurred in nearby Otepho and Min Hla on Sunday night. Official reports use the term "religious buildings" in an apparent attempt to dampen passion, though in most cases the targets were reportedly mosques.

The announcement said an emergency law known as Section 144 would be applied in the three townships which will ban public assemblies, marches and speeches, and impose a 6 p.m. to 6 a.m. curfew.

The religious unrest began with rioting a week ago in the central city of Meikhtila that was sparked by a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.

The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said Tuesday that eight more bodies were found in Meikhtila as soldiers cleared devastated areas set ablaze by anti-Muslim mobs during three days of rioting, bringing the death toll to 40. State TV said Tuesday that although calm had been restored in Meikhtila, a 7 p.m. to 4 a.m. curfew has been imposed to prevent any new violence.

Amid fears of spreading violence, shop owners in Yangon, about 550 kilometers (340 miles) south of Meikhtila, were told to close Monday evening by 8:30 p.m. or 9 p.m.

The fears appeared unfounded, but most Yangon shops were closed Tuesday for a national holiday.

The upsurge in sectarian unrest casts a shadow over President Thein Sein's administration as it struggles to make democratic changes after a half-century of military rule. Hundreds of people were killed last year and more than 100,000 made homeless in sectarian violence in western Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.