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Religious riots shook eastern Burma for a second day Wednesday with one man hacked to death and five injured, a top official said, after an orphanage and mosque were burnt down.
Police fired warning shots to disperse rioters after Buddhists and Muslims clashed in the town of Lashio in Shan state, according to presidential spokesman Ye Htut.
“The deceased is a man. He was hacked to death with a knife,” Ye Htut told AFP, adding that the security forces were taking action to halt the unrest.
Several episodes of religious violence have exposed deep rifts in the Buddhist-majority country and cast a shadow over widely praised political reforms since military rule ended two years ago.
Residents said mobs armed with sticks were roaming the streets of Lashio looking for Muslims on Wednesday, while an AFP reporter saw two houses ablaze.
A local hospital confirmed it had received four injured men, all Buddhists.
One of the wounded, 41-year-old Myint Naing, was seen lying in the hospital, wrapped in bandages.
The local electricity board worker said he was attacked by a group of around 30 Muslims as he was leaving the town on his motorcycle on Wednesday.
“My friend was able to run away and escape but I couldn’t… I was attacked. They cut my arm off,” he said, adding he was waiting to go into surgery to reattach the limb.
Security forces had imposed an overnight curfew Tuesday after the initial unrest, which authorities said was triggered by an attack on a local Buddhist woman.
A 48-year-old Muslim man was arrested over that incident, in which the 24-year-old woman suffered burns but was not in serious condition, according to state broadcaster MRTV.
Rioters destroyed a Muslim orphanage, a mosque and several shops, according to a different government official who spoke on the condition of anonymity.
Ye Htut, who earlier appealed for calm, posted pictures of police making arrests in the town on Wednesday as they tried to quell a second eruption of violence that he said saw “conflict from both sides”.
“The security forces are taking action against people who are involved in the violence in order to stop the fighting in Lashio,” he said.
Fear rippled through the streets on Wednesday, with terrified Muslim residents describing a 30-strong group of men with weapons on motorcycles cruising Lashio and shouting anti-Muslim slogans.
The residents said there was not enough security in the town.
“Almost all Muslim people are trying to stay in safe places…. we don’t know how we are going to get through the night,” one resident said by telephone, asking not to be named.
He said the mob of bikers was threatening to “kill any Muslims they see on the road”.
Religious unrest in the former army-ruled nation has caused global alarm. US President Barack Obama last week voiced “deep concern” about anti-Muslim attacks, during a landmark visit to Washington by President Thein Sein.
Nyan Win, a spokesman for opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy, said the party believed outsiders were whipping up the violence in Lashio.
“The people they know that this violence (does) not happen automatically. They know that there’s a third person there,” he said, without elaborating.
In March, at least 44 people were killed in sectarian strife in central Burma with thousands of homes set ablaze.
Some monks – who were among the most vocal pro-democracy supporters during Burma’s repressive junta era – have been involved in the violence, while others are spearheading a move to boycott shops owned by Muslims.
Wirathu, a monk from Mandalay responsible for some of the most vitriolic anti-Muslim rhetoric, on Wednesday posted several graphic pictures apparently of the injured Buddhist woman on his Facebook page.
Communal unrest last year in the western state of Arakan left about 200 people dead and displaced up to 140,000 people, mainly Rohingya Muslims.