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Buddhists in Myanmar torch homes and shops

HTAN GONE, Myanmar — Members of a 1,000-strong Buddhist mob torched dozens of homes and shops in northwestern Myanmar following rumors that a Muslim man tried to sexually assault a young woman, officials and witnesses said Sunday, as the country was once again gripped by sectarian violence.

The rioters, who sang the country’s national anthem as they rampaged, dispersed after security forces arrived early Sunday, shooting into the air. No injuries were reported.

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The hours-long riot in Htan Gone village, 10 miles south of the town of Kantbalu in the region of Sagaing, began late Saturday after a crowd surrounded a police station, demanding that the suspect in the attempted assault be handed over, a police officer said. The officer requested anonymity because he did not have the authority to speak.

State television reported that about 42 houses and 15 shops were burned and destroyed — most belonging to Muslims.

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

The unrest — which has killed more than 250 people and left 140,000 others displaced — began last year in the western state of Rakhine, where nationalist 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 the country, fueling deep-seated prejudices against the Islamic minority and threatening Myanmar’s fragile transition to democracy.

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