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5 dead in central Myanmar religious rioting

As smoke rose from riots in Meikhtila, Burma, a man surveyed the damage in the streets Thursday. Unrest is continuing.

SOE ZEYA TUN/REUTERS

As smoke rose from riots in Meikhtila, Burma, a man surveyed the damage in the streets Thursday. Unrest is continuing.

YANGON, Burma — Two days of rioting killed at least five people and left a mosque in flames in a central Burmese town, the latest challenge for the government in keeping the peace while making the transition from strong-arm military rule to pluralist democracy.

State-controlled media Thursday night broke their silence on the violence in Meikhtila and revealed five people had been killed and 39 injured in rioting that was triggered by an argument between a Muslim gold shop owner and his Buddhist customers.

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Occasional isolated violence involving Burma’s majority Buddhist and minority Muslim communities has occurred for decades. But the risk of spreading violence was underlined last year by clashes in the western state of Rakhine between ethnic Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya that left about 200 people dead and more than 100,000 homeless.

There was fear the number of dead in Meikhtila would rise because the violence — the country’s worst since the clashes in Rakhine state — was continuing.

According to an employee of Meikhtila General Hospital, Amar Yee, the dead were one Buddhist monk, two Buddhist residents, and two Muslim ones. State television said one of the five was a woman.

As nightfall approached Thursday, the situation remained tense, although a curfew was apparently put in force for a second night. But there was confusion even among police about when it was supposed to take effect.

‘‘At the moment, people are gathering here and there in groups downtown,’’ said Tin Mg Thin, a police warrant officer in Meikhtila. ‘‘Some parts of the town still have structures burning. . . . The police are patrolling and guarding some points. We are awaiting orders from above.’’

Several Muslim-owned shops and at least one mosque were burned Wednesday.

Under the military governments that ruled Burma, also known as Myanmar, from 1962 until 2011, ethnic and religious unrest was generally not covered in state-run media. But since an elected government took power in 2011, people have been using the Internet and social media, and the press has been unshackled.

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