World Bulletin/News Desk
Buddhist mobs have damaged a mosque and Muslim shops in Mandalay, Myanmar’s second largest city.
Police fired shots to disperse crowds as Buddhists and Muslims faced off in the streets on Wednesday.
The violence flared after a rumor was spread on social media that a Muslim had raped a Buddhist woman.
Ashin Wirathu, a notorious Buddhist monk based in Mandalay, had posted the alleged rape on his Facebook page.
Wirathu, who has described himself as Myanmar’s “Bin Laden”, has been accused of stoking anti-Muslim tensions, and is a key leader of a group called 969.
The group’s followers claim Myanmar is under threat from Islamic expansion, and have called for a boycott of Muslim-owned businesses.
As tensions rose in Mandalay on Tuesday evening, a mob of Buddhists reportedly formed in a Muslim area of town and began attacking shops and burning vehicles.
Local media reported that three people were injured in the disturbances and there are unconfirmed reports that a Muslim man was shot.
Myanmar has been blighted by repeated eruptions of sectarian violence since June 2012. Around 280 people have been killed and tens of thousands displaced, mostly Muslims.
The initial riots flared in western Rakhine state, where a stateless Muslim minority known as the Rohingya made up most of the victims. But clashes have since spread across the country.
The violence has tarnished the image of Myanmar’s new reformist government, which took power in 2011 following five decades of military rule.
POLICE FIRE RUBBER BULLETS
Myanmar police fired rubber bullets on Wednesday to disperse crowds of Buddhists and Muslims facing off in the streets of Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, police said.
Police deployed more than 600 officers after a crowd of about 300 Buddhists including 30 monks began throwing stones near a tea shop owned by a Muslim man at 11 p.m. (1630 GMT) on Tuesday, according to a statement released by Mandalay police.
"One policeman, three Buddhists and one Muslim were injured by stones in the incident," the statement said. "Two of the three injured Buddhist men are receiving treatment in Mandalay hospital and the rest got treatment as outpatients."
Police said they fired three rubber bullets in an attempt to control the crowd, which dispersed at around 3:15 a.m. on Wednesday after monks helped convince people to leave.
Police stood between the groups of Muslims and Buddhists and tried to drive the Buddhists away, the witness told Reuters.
"The police and the crowd fought each other and the crowd threw stones at the police," he said, asking not to be named out of concern for his safety.
He said the Buddhist mob ransacked shops and burned vehicles before police managed to restore order, but that at 6 a.m. Buddhists were still driving through the neighbourhood shouting at residents.Last Mod: 02 Temmuz 2014, 13:59