AFP/Global Post: Myanmar unrest death toll reaches 43: state media

Myanmar unrest death toll reaches 43: state media (click to view article)

The death toll from recent communal violence in central Myanmar has risen to 43 with more than 1,300 homes and other buildings destroyed, state media reported on Saturday.

Sixty-eight people have been arrested in connection with the Buddhist-Muslim unrest, which has left 11,376 people homeless, the New Light of Myanmar newspaper reported.

In total, 163 incidences of violence have been reported in 15 townships, it added.

Previously the official death toll stood at 40.

The situation appears to have calmed since President Thein Sein on Thursday vowed a tough response against those behind the violence, which he attributed to "political opportunists and religious extremists".

Security forces fired warning shots on Wednesday to disperse rioters. But Muslim leaders have criticised the security forces for failing to stop the attacks.

The clashes were apparently triggered by an argument in a gold shop that turned into a riot, but witnesses say the wave of violence since then appears to have been well organised.

It is the worst sectarian strife since violence between Buddhists and Muslims in the western state of Rakhine last year left at least 180 people dead.

Representatives from civil society, government, Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy party and religious groups issued a joint statement on Saturday calling for respect for the country's various religions.

"We oppose the violent attacks and threats on the lives and property of citizens and the racial and religious discrimination among citizens," according to the statement supported by 58 people who attended a seminar in Yangon organised by the Myanmar Peace Center.

"It is crucial to act to prevent the riots from spreading," it added.