The looming threat of religious violence in Rangoon is beginning to take its toll on the economy, after authorities force businesses to close early and residents are too scared to venture outside their homes, locals have warned.
Taxi and rickshaw drivers say they have struggled to make a living since Tuesday, when the government ordered all businesses in Rangoon to close between 9pm and 4am.
“We are struggling to even cover the [vehicle rental] fee as not a lot of people are going out. This is affecting us all,” a taxi driver told DVB on Wednesday.
“Yesterday I made about 3000 kyat (US$4), but today I have only 200 kyat (US$0.30) so far,” explained a rickshaw driver. “We would like to have some peace and tranquility so our daily life can go back to normal.”
It follows reports that anti-Muslim violence, which has swept central Burma over the past week, is likely to spread to the former capital.
On Monday, the US Embassy warned its citizens to avoid certain areas in the old capital, including the Mingalar Market/Yuzana Plaza area east of Kandawgyi Lake, after rumours of anti-Muslim riots in the area forced shops to close and prompted a heavy police presence.
The city’s municipal authorities have since ordered all businesses across the capital, including restaurants, teashops, internet cafes and beauty saloons, to close by 9pm. Many locals in predominately Muslim areas are also reported to be too scared to leave their homes.
“Around 8-9pm is when the business is good but authorities ordered us to close to prevent mobs building up,” said a restaurant owner. “Since we have to rent this shop space, this is damaging to our business. We want all these riots to end soon.”
On Sunday evening, several men drove around in trucks in two Rangoon townships, Mingalartaungnyunt and Tamwe, in an apparent bid to stir anti-Muslim riots. Leaflets have also been circulated in southern Rangoon warning Muslims against possible attacks.
But others have suggested that a group of “instigators” are trying to spread fear, and local authorities have warned people not to listen to unfounded rumours.
Anti-Muslim riots have rippled through Burma over the past week, after clashes in central Burma’s Meikhtila township erupted last Wednesday, causing at least 40 deaths and displacing over 12,000 people.
This week’s unrest is the largest outburst of communal violence, since two bouts of ethno-religious clashes between Rohingya Muslims and Buddhist Arakanese last year, which killed at least 200 people and displaced more than 125,000.