Muslims clear their homes that were burnt in the riot at Htan Kone village, in Myanmar's northern Sagaing region August 26, 2013 (Photo: Reuters)
Buddhist mobs on motorbikes drove through Myanmar's historic city of Mandalay in a second night of attacks on minority Muslims that left two people dead and raised fears of wider violence.
The dead included a Muslim man, who residents said was on his way to a mosque before dawn Thursday when he was attacked by the mob and left dead in the street. The second victim was a Buddhist man, whose cause of death was under investigation, said a police officer on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to speak to media.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been grappling with violence since 2012 that has left up to 280 people dead and another 140,000 homeless, most of them Muslims attacked by Buddhist extremists. Most of the violence has taken place in western Rakhine state.
The latest outbreak that started Tuesday night was a first in Mandalay, in central Myanmar, the second-largest city, an important economic hub and center of Buddhist culture and learning where Muslims and Buddhists have traditionally lived peacefully together.
The government has faced international criticism for failing to act strongly to stop the violence, which in Rakhine state reportedly occurred as security forces looked on. So far, the government has not commented on the Mandalay attacks.
In a radio address Thursday, President Thein Sein raised the country's need for stability as it transitions to democracy from a half-century of military rule — but did not mention Mandalay specifically.
"For reforms to be successful, I would like to urge all to avoid instigation and behavior that incites hatred in our fellow citizens," Thein Sein said.
The violence followed rumors that the Muslim owner of a teashop had raped a Buddhist woman, said Khin Maung Oo, secretary of the city's Myanmar Muslim Youth Religious Convention Center. Police did not immediately confirm or deny the alleged rape, but said they were tipped off that the teashop might be attacked and told the owner to close early.
Authorities deployed hundreds of police after a crowd of more than 300 Buddhists marched to the teashop, singing the national anthem. Police fired rubber bullets to try to disperse the crowd.
Rioters threw stones at a mosque, causing minor damage to its exterior and front doors, and others ransacked a few Muslim-owned shops. Several cars were set on fire or had windows shattered by stones and bricks.
At least four people suffered minor injuries, mostly from stones thrown by the mob or from rubber bullets fired by police, authorities said.
Order was restored, but trouble reignited Wednesday evening.
"More than 100 motorbikes drove through the city (Wednesday) night throwing stones at mosques and shouting abuses and singing the national anthem to taunt the Muslim people," said Win Mya Mya, a Muslim resident and senior member of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.He and others blamed police for failing to control the Buddhist mobs.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.