Myanmar authorities detained four people and imposed a curfew in the country’s second largest city Mandalay on Thursday after two consecutive days of anti-Muslim riots left two dead and more than a dozen injured.
As hundreds of armed police patrolled the city to restore calm, President Thein Sein, in a radio address, called for stability and appealed to the people to avoid incitement of unrest.
He did not directly refer to the latest Buddhist-Muslim violence besetting the country, which is emerging from decades of harsh military rule.
The two people who died — a Muslim and a Buddhist — were not involved in the violence, reports said.
The violence was triggered by Buddhist mob attacks on minority Muslim shops, homes and a mosque in Chan Aye Thar Zan township on Tuesday following unconfirmed reports that a Muslim tea shop owner raped a Buddhist woman.
The next day, a Muslim man was on his way to a mosque when he was attacked by a mob and left dead in the street while a Buddhist man suffered the same fate as he went out to collect money that had been owed to him.
Police said aside from the two deaths, 14 people were wounded during the nights of violence on Tuesday and Wednesday, which continued into Thursday morning.
The curfew, covering all six townships in Mandalay, was announced Thursday by the local government, which asked residents to remain indoors from 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. and prohibited gatherings of five people or more during the restricted hours.
Four people suspected of involvement in the riots have been detained, said Mandalay Chief Minister Ye Myint who met religious and community leaders Thursday to seek help in restoring calm in the city.
“We will work on long term plans to take care of all citizens’ safety,” Ye Myint said.
He said plans would be devised particularly to provide security to mosques.
Mandalay is regarded as the country's monastic heartland and home to tens of thousands of monks, including Wirathu the leader of a controversial nationwide campaign known as the “969 Movement” which claims Myanmar’s minority Muslims are threatening the Buddhist majority.
On Wednesday night, Buddhist mobs on motorcycles shouted anti-Muslim slogans in Chan Aye Thar township, triggering clashes with Muslims, a local official of opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy (NLD) party told RFA.
“They threw bricks and stones at Muslim homes. There were clashes and some people were hospitalized and some motorbikes were destroyed,” said Myo Naing, executive committee secretary for the Mandalay region branch of the NLD.
A senior police officer in the capital, Naypyitaw, told Reuters news agency that charges of rape had been filed against the Muslim tea shop owner and his brother at a police station in Pyinmana, a town about halfway between Mandalay and Naypyitaw where the rape allegedly took place.
Sectarian violence in Myanmar has left up to 280 people dead and another 140,000 homeless since 2012—mostly Muslims, according to rights groups.
While most of the violence has occurred in western Myanmar’s restive Rakhine state, several incidents have occurred in the country’s central region, including a wave of arson attacks in Meikhtila city—about 150 kilometers (90 miles) south of Mandalay—which left 43 dead and 13,000 homeless in March 2013.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.
In his monthly radio address to the nation, President Thein Sein called on the people to avoid incitement of unrest, saying the country needed stability for reforms to succeed.
“In order for reform to succeed, I appeal to all to avoid instigation and behavior that incites hatred among our fellow citizens,” he said.
Reminding the people that Myanmar was a multi-racial and multi-religious nation, he said reforms he introduced since coming to power in 2011 would succeed only if the country is stable and united.
The U.S. embassy in Yangon issued a message on its official Twitter feed on Thursday calling for calm.
"Rule by law not rumor and mob action (is) essential for justice, stability and development," it said.
Opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi blamed the authorities for the worsening violence, saying prompt action should have been taken.
She cautioned the public against trusting unsubstantiated reports.
“The authorities should properly handle those people who are spreading rumors. Without rule of law, more riots will come,” she told RFA.
Reported by Set Paing Toe, Kyaw Zaw Win and Khin Khin Ei for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.