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Mar 24, 2013 at 09:25am IST

Myanmar: President declares martial law post Buddhists-Muslims clashes

Yangon: Myanmar President Thein Sein has declared martial law in four townships following violent ethnic clashes between the Buddhists and Muslims. Dozens of people have been killed and many have been displaced due to the unrest.

The military has now taken over charge of security in these towns. Truckloads of soldiers could be seen patrolling Meikhtila and taking up positions at intersections and banks as some residents, who had cowered in their homes for days since the mayhem began Wednesday, began wandering their streets to take in the destruction.

The unrest, the first of its kind reported in Myanmar since a wave of bloodshed shook western Rakhine state twice in 2012, underscored the government's failure to reign in anti-Muslim sentiment in the predominantly Buddhist country, where even leading monks have staged anti-Muslim rallies that critics say have set the stage for further violence. It was not immediately clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but terrified Muslims, who make about 30 per cent of Meikhtila's 100,000 inhabitants, stayed off the streets on Saturday as their shops and homes burned and some angry Buddhist residents and monks tried to stop firefighters from dousing the blazes.

Myanmar: President Thein Sein declares martial law

Riot police crisscrossed town seizing machetes and hammers from enraged Buddhist mobs.

Riot police crisscrossed town seizing machetes and hammers from enraged Buddhist mobs. At least five mosques were torched and thousands of terrified Muslims have fled their homes, escorted to safety by police to two make-shift camps.

Some Buddhists, meanwhile, have sought shelter at local monasteries. "Calm has been restored after troops have taken charge of security, said Win Htein, an opposition lawmaker from Meikhtila. "So far, nearly 6,000 Muslim people have been relocated at a stadium and a police station for their safety."

Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighbourhoods, where whole plots were reduced to smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, destroyed motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burnt-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos of the last two days.

Residents described gruesome scenes. Local businessman San Hlaing said he counted 28 bodies this week and had seen blackened corpses burning in piles.

(With Additional Inputs From AP)

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