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Myanmar

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Buddhists torch Muslim homes in Myanmar

YANGON, Myanmar – Fresh sectarian violence broke out in northwestern Myanmar late Saturday when Buddhist mobs burned down dozens of homes and shops following rumors that a young woman had been sexually assaulted by a Muslim man. There were no reports of injuries.

Myanmar’s radical monk Wirathu, whose anti-Muslim rhetoric has placed him at the center of rising religious violence, said on his Facebook page that hundreds of people took part in the riot on the outskirts of Kantbalu.

A crowd surrounded the police station demanding that the suspect be handed over, said a police officer from the area, who asked not to be named because he did not have authority to speak to the media.

When police refused, they started setting buildings on fire, he said.

About 35 houses and 12 shops – most belonging to Muslims – were destroyed before calm was restored, he said.

Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation of 60 million people, has been grappling with sectarian violence since the country’s military rulers handed over power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

More than 250 people have been killed – most of them Muslims – and 140,000 others forced to flee their homes.

The unrest began last year in the western state of Rakhine, where Buddhists accuse the Rohingya Muslim community of illegally entering the country and encroaching on their land. The violence, on a smaller scale but still deadly, spread earlier this year to other parts of Myanmar and has stirred up prejudice against Muslims.

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