Guardian UK: Burma sectarian clashes erupt in Oakkan town

Burma sectarian clashes erupt in Oakkan town (click to view article)

Rioters have attacked a mosque and Muslim businesses in central Burma, police said, the closest a series of sectarian clashes pitting Muslims against majority Buddhists has come to the commercial capital, Rangoon.

Gangs armed with bricks smashed the mosque's windows and looted dozens of shops after a Muslim woman collided with a Buddhist monk while walking in the street, angering residents, police said.

"Police had to disperse the crowd by firing warning shots," presidential spokesman Ye Htut wrote on his Facebook page. He said order had been restored in Oakkan town, 60 miles north of Rangoon, Burma's former capital and by far its largest city.

Clashes between Buddhists and Muslims, who comprise about 5% of the population, are increasing, and have regularly erupted since a quasi-civilian government took power in March 2011 after five decades of military dictatorship.

Rioting broke out in March in the central town of Meikhtila and led to the deaths of 44 people and left 13,000 displaced. A state of emergency was declared after three days of violence, but attacks on Muslims spread south towards the capital, Naypyitaw.

Radical monks have been accused of inciting anti-Muslim violence through speeches delivered across the country and disseminated on recordings sold in shops and at street stalls.

Seven Muslim men are on trial in Meikhtila charged with murdering a monk, seen as the trigger for the riots.

A witness in Oakkan, who asked not to be identified, said monks had tried to subdue the crowd.

Systematic attacks on stateless Rohingya Muslims erupted in western Rakhine state in June and October. More than 200 people died and 120,000 were driven from their homes.

A recent report by Human Rights Watch has accused the Burmese authorities of ethnic cleansing against Rohingyas.