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New curfew declared after 10 killed in central Myanmar riots


By Aung Hla Tun

BANGKOK (Reuters) - A central Myanmar town declared a curfew for a second night on Thursday after violent clashes killed 10 people, including a Buddhist monk, and injured at least 20, authorities said.

Riots erupted in Meikhtila, 540 km (336 miles) north of Yangon, on Wednesday after an argument between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim owners of a gold shop escalated into a riot involving hundreds of people, police said.

"We can't say the situation is under control. The police force is not strong enough to control the situation," Win Htein, a member of the opposition National League for Democracy party, told Reuters.

A government building was set on fire on Thursday morning, he added.

Relations between Buddhists and Muslims have simmered since last year's sectarian violence in western Rakhine state killed 110 people and left 120,000 people homeless. Such violence could endanger democratic reforms undertaken in the country since military rule ended in 2011, the U.N. warned earlier this month.

The Meikhtila clash raises concerns the religious unrest could spread elsewhere in Myanmar, a Buddhist-dominated country where about five percent of the 60 million population are Muslim.

At least one mosque, an Islamic religious school, several shops and a government office were set alight, said a fire service official who declined to be named.

"Over 20 people had to be sent to hospital for injuries in the violence. A Buddhist monk and a local driver died in hospital while the rest are receiving treatment," a police officer from the township told Reuters.

Senior government officials said they were monitoring the situation in Meikhtila while roads linking it to other major cities in the region have been temporarily closed.

"It is very important to understand that there are those who want to create racial and sectarian violence out of ordinary crimes," Min Ko Naing, of the pro-democracy 88 Generation Peace and Open Society group, told reporters in Yangon on Wednesday.

(Writing by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Andrew R.C. Marshall and Nick Macfie)