Meikhtila: Myanmar town declares state of emergency


Black smoke rises from burning houses around a mosque in riot-hit Meiktila, central Myanmar on March 21, 2013.


Soe Than WIN

A state of emergency was declared in Meikhtila after three days of violence between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar left at least 20 people dead.

State television aired a statement announcing the decision on behalf of President Thein Sein, where he said the new measure would enable the military to return order to the town.

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"At least 20 people have been killed. We estimate that it could be higher but it is also difficult for us to gather all the figures," a police officer who did not want to be named told Agence France-Presse.

"The situation is getting worse," a local resident also told AFP. "People are destroying buildings. Many people have been killed. We are scared and trying to stay safe at home."

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Journalists have reported seeing incinerated remains of victims on roadsides, and being stopped at knifepoint and being asked to hand over camera memory cards.

Trouble initially broke out on Wednesday after an argument started between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers. One of the first people killed was a Buddhist monk. His death inflamed an already tense situation, leading to a Buddhist mob rampaging through a Muslim neighborhood.