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Riot-hit Myanmar urges end to 'religious extremism'

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(Globalpost/GlobalPost)

Myanmar's reformist government on Monday called for an end to "terrorist acts and religious extremism" following a new eruption of communal violence in the former military-ruled nation.

At least 32 people have been killed and more than 9,000 displaced since the latest episode of communal unrest broke out last Wednesday in Meiktila, 130 kilometres (80 miles) north of the capital Naypyidaw, according to officials.

"As the government is now working on moving ahead with democratic reforms and development, people are urged to refrain from terrorist acts and religious extremism which can harm this work," according to a government statement read out on the evening news.

The country's quasi-civilian government, which has faced strong international pressure over the unrest, said it would "address all terrorist attacks including incitements for racial and religious attacks".

It said it would provide emergency food and shelter to the displaced and resettle them as soon as the situation becomes stable.

The clashes were a stark reminder of the challenge that Muslim-Buddhist tensions pose to Myanmar's government as it tries to reform the country after decades of iron-fisted military rule ended two years ago.

It was the most serious religious conflict since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead and more than 110,000 displaced.

The mood was also nervous in parts of the main city of Yangon, according to local residents, where the regional government ordered restaurants or shops selling alcohol to close by 9:00 pm.

"Some drunk people might spread rumours among the public," a government official told AFP on condition of anonymity. "The order is just a precaution."

The bloodshed has raised fears that long-standing religious tensions that were largely suppressed during junta rule could now spread to other parts of the country.

After a state of emergency was declared on Friday and the army was sent into the area, an uneasy calm has returned to Meiktila following several days of violence that saw houses and mosques torched and charred bodies left on the streets.

"There's no more arson or attacks," local MP Win Htein on Monday said by telephone, adding that the main challenge now is to rebuild the relationship between Buddhists and Muslims who had previously lived side-by-side.

"The security is getting better too. The shops have reopened already and highway buses are running too," he said.

Elsewhere, however, there were signs of fresh trouble with violence on Saturday night leaving more than 40 houses and a mosque in ruins in Yamethin township near Naypyidaw, according to a ward official.

Unrest was also reported in several other villages in the area.

sym/dr/ia

http://www.globalpost.com/dispatch/news/afp/130325/riot-hit-myanmar-urges-end-religious-extremism-0