Authorities in Myanmar imposed a dusk-to-dawn curfew in three townships on Tuesday after anti-Muslim religious violence touched new parts of the country, edging closer to the main city of Yangon.
State television reported incidents in the three townships in Bago region, all within 150 kilometres of Yangon. The latest attack Monday night was in Gyobingauk, where it said “troublemakers” damaged a religious building, shops and some houses.
The report said similar attacks on religious buildings, shops and houses occurred in nearby Otepho and Min Hla on Sunday night. Official reports use the term “religious buildings” in an apparent attempt to dampen passion, though in most cases the targets were reportedly mosques.
The announcement said an emergency law known as Section 144 would be applied in the three townships which will ban public assemblies, marches and speeches, and impose a 6pm to 6am curfew.
The religious unrest began with rioting a week ago in the central city of Meikhtila that was sparked by a dispute between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.
The New Light of Myanmar newspaper said on Tuesday that eight more bodies were found in Meikhtila as soldiers cleared devastated areas set ablaze by anti-Muslim mobs during three days of rioting, bringing the death toll to 40. State TV said Tuesday that although calm had been restored in Meikhtila, a 7pm to 4am curfew has been imposed to prevent any new violence.
Amid fears of spreading violence, shop owners in Yangon, about 550 kilometres south of Meikhtila, were told to close on Monday evening by 8.30pm or 9pm.
The fears appeared unfounded, but most Yangon shops remained closed on Tuesday due to a national holiday.
The upsurge in sectarian unrest casts a shadow over President Thein Sein’s administration as it struggles to make democratic changes after a half-century of military rule. Hundreds of people were killed last year and more than 100,000 made homeless in sectarian violence in western Myanmar between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas.