Muslims flee after riots in Burma town

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BURMA has declared a state of emergency in a central city shaken by bloodshed that has killed at least 20 people, as thousands of minority Muslims fled and overwhelmed riot police patrolled the still-burning town, seizing machetes and hammers from Buddhist mobs.

Smoke and flames poured from buildings in Meikhtila yesterday, where the unrest between Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted on Wednesday – the latest challenge to Burma’s transition to democratic rule.

The devastation was reminiscent of strikingly similar scenes last year in western Burma, where sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya left hundreds dead. More than 100,000 people are still displaced from that conflict, almost all of them Muslim.

The troubles in Meikhtila began after an argument broke out between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. A Buddhist monk was among the first killed, inflaming tensions that led a Buddhist mob to rampage through a Muslim district.