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Authorities in Mandalay have instituted a curfew, effective on Thursday, for six townships following two nights of riots that left two people dead and more than a dozen injured. Residents have been ordered to remain indoors between 9pm and 5am until further notice.
On Tuesday night, crowds amassed in Mandalay’s Chan Aye Tharzan Township, a predominantly Muslim neighbourhood in Burma’s second-largest city. Police had been deployed to the area following tips that a group of monks planned to seek out a Muslim tea-shop owner accused of raping a Buddhist woman.
Despite the deployment of hundreds of police officers, the situation soon turned hostile. Crowds had swelled to more than 300 people by 11pm, including about 30 monks, according to Mandalay police. Though officers set up barricades and fired rubber bullets into the air to disperse the mob, they were unable to prevent the rioters from throwing bricks, bottles and stones at surrounding homes, businesses and cars.
Crowds were eventually broken up by 4am, and reports of five injuries were announced on Wednesday morning during a police press briefing. Tensions remained high on Wednesday as additional security forces took to the streets, but no state of emergency had yet been declared.
On Wednesday night, crowds returned to Chan Aye Tharzan. Kyaw San, a teacher at a nearby Islamic education centre, told DVB on Thursday that “Last night, many people came on motorbikes. Police saw them but didn’t try to arrest them.”
Kyaw San, who has evacuated the area with his family, said that the crowd was led by a group of monks that have planned nightly demonstrations in the area. Fearing their return, some of the neighbourhood’s residents left the area in the daytime.
“Many people ran away,” he said.
Early on Thursday morning, Kyaw San was informed that a close friend, 51-year-old Soe Min, had been beaten to death while walking to a mosque for morning prayers.
Soe Min was one of two men confirmed to have died during the second night of violence. Police verified on Thursday that the other victim was a Buddhist man that succumbed to injuries on Wednesday night.
Bouts of often deadly communal conflict have swept the country since June 2012, when violence broke out between Arakanese Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims in western Burma. Two rounds of rioting ultimately left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 displaced, almost all of them Muslims. Most of the displaced still live in isolated camps where aid is heavily restricted and mobility is tightly controlled. International observers, including the United Nations, have concluded that crimes against humanity may have been committed against the stateless Rohingya minority.
The following year saw an overall rise in a more general anti-Islamic trend; while Burma’s Rohingya population has suffered most of the damages, Kaman and other Muslim groups have also been affected, and many say they still live in fear and wish to leave the country.