Burma has issued a state of emergency in the central city of Meikhtila after three days of ethnic violence between Muslims and Buddhists has left scores dead, forced thousands to flee and left local homes and shops reduced to smoking rubble.
Rioting began on Wednesday in the now ash-covered town, located 360 miles north of the commercial capital Rangoon, after an argument between a Muslim shopkeeper and his Buddhist customers erupted into a street brawl that ended with the death of a Buddhist monk.
Soon after, photos and videos of mobs roaming the streets were circulating online – showing streets littered with burning motorbikes, men armed with sticks and swords destroying property, and buildings set ablaze – with little indication that security forces were putting a stop to it.
The violence has called into question Burma’s fledgling transition to democracy after a quasi-civilian government ended nearly 50 years of military rule in 2010. Led by reformist president Thein Sein, who has carried out a series of economic and political reforms – among them the lifting of censorship regulations and the release of many political prisoners – but the country has also witnessed a growing tension between majority Buddhists and minority Muslims, who comprise 5% of the 60m population.
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