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Myanmar declares state of emergency in western state to cope with sectarian strife
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) ' Myanmar's president has declared a state of emergency in a western state where sectarian tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have unleashed deadly violence.
Thein Sein issued the declaration in a short speech televised nationally Sunday night. A state of emergency effectively allows the military to take over administrative functions for the area affected.
The move follows rioting on Friday in two areas of Rakhine state that state media say left at least seven people dead and 17 wounded, and saw hundreds of houses burned down. The unrest spread on Saturday and Sunday.
Thein Sein called on the people, religious bodies, political parties, civil society and the media to join hands with the government to maintain the rule of law.
THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP's earlier story is below.
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) ' Authorities in western Myanmar imposed new curfews Sunday to keep deadly clashes between local Buddhists and Muslim Bengalis from escalating.
State television announced a 6:00 p.m. to 6:00 a.m curfew starting Sunday has been imposed in the Rakhine state capital of Sittwe and three other townships because of elements there acting unlawfully and causing disorder. Public gathering of more than five persons were also banned.
The move follows rioting on Friday in two other areas of Rakhine state that, according to state media, left at least seven people dead and 17 wounded, and saw hundreds of houses burned down.
Those official accounts blamed the rioting in Maungdaw and Buthidaung townships on 1,000 "terrorists," but residents' accounts made clear they were Muslims, apparently retaliating for the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims by a crowd of 300 Buddhists. The lynch mob was inflamed by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslim men.
The violence reflects long-standing tensions in Rakhine state between Buddhist residents and Muslims, many of whom are considered to be illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Although the root of the problem is localized, there is fear that the trouble could spread elsewhere because the split also runs along religious lines.
The new curfews were imposed in reaction to new clashes Saturday and Sunday outside Friday's trouble spots, where order was said to have been restored.
"Some houses were set on fire by the Muslims today in Sittwe and four Rakhine villagers arrived at the hospital with knife wounds," said Nu Nu Tha, a resident of Sittwe contacted by phone.
"Almost all shops are closed and people live in fear that the Muslims might attack the Rakhine population. I am very scared and I have sent my children to Yangon by plane," Nu Nu Tha said.
Shops in Sittwe were closed and the busy port city was unusually quiet Sunday, according to residents.
Army troops had been deployed Friday in Maungdaw and Buthidaung to help police keep order, and security officials were reported to have fired shots to quell the violence, in addition to imposing a curfew.
In Yangon on Sunday, Buddhist monks and people from Rakhine state ' about 500 in all ' went to the Shwedagon Pagoda, Myanmar's most revered Buddhist shrine, to say prayers for the murdered girl and those killed in the clashes.
The amount of information about Friday's incident released by state media in a timely fashion was nearly unprecedented, although still far from comprehensive. Under the previous military regime, such incidents usually went unreported or were referred to only in brief, cryptic fashion.
The elected though military-backed government of President Thein Sein has instituted reforms to try to reverse decades of repression, including allowing a much freer flow of information.