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Two dead in sectarian unrest in Myanmar

Sectarian clashes have left two dead in Myanmar's second-largest city, authorities said Thursday, after a rape accusation triggered a new round of rioting in the former military-ruled nation.

YANGON: Sectarian clashes have left two dead in Myanmar's second-largest city, authorities said Thursday, after a rape accusation triggered a new round of rioting in the former military-ruled nation.

Angry mobs rampaged through Mandalay for a second straight night in the latest of several waves of sectarian unrest that have exposed deep religious tensions in the Buddhist-majority Southeast Asian nation.

Inter-communal violence has overshadowed widely praised political reforms since erupting in 2012. It has largely targeted Muslims, leaving at least 250 people dead and tens of thousands homeless.

Buddhist rioters, some armed with sticks and knives, attacked a Muslim teashop on Tuesday and surrounding property in downtown Mandalay after an accusation of rape, according to local police.

Security forces fired rubber bullets in the early hours of Wednesday to try and disperse the crowds.

Unrest then broke out again late Wednesday despite an increase in security, with pockets of violence flaring across the centre of the city of some seven million people.

"Two men were killed" in attacks late Wednesday and into Thursday, Zaw Min Oo, a senior police officer in Mandalay, told AFP.

He said one of the victims was Buddhist and one was Muslim. About 10 other people were injured.

In a monthly radio address, Myanmar's reformist President Thein Sein called for an end to religious hatred.

"As our country is a multi-racial and -religious nation, the current reform process will be successful only when stability is maintained through the co-operation of all the citizens by living harmoniously with one another," he said according to an official transcript.

"For the reform to be successful, I would like to urge all to avoid instigation and behaviour that incite hatred among our fellow citizens," he said.

The former general has been credited with pushing through dramatic reforms since the former military government handed power to a nominally civilian government in 2011.

But the sectarian conflicts have provided a major test for his administration and prompted warnings that the country's fragile transition towards democracy could be at risk.

Muslims in Myanmar account for an estimated four per cent of the roughly 60 million population.

Sectarian clashes flared up two years ago in western Rakhine state, with fighting that has displaced about 140,000 people, mainly stateless Rohingya Muslims.

It has since broadened into sporadic attacks against Muslim communities across the country, with violence often provoked by rumours or individual criminal acts.

Radical monks have been accused of stoking religious tensions with fiery warnings that Buddhism is under threat from Islam.

A prominent monk, Wirathu, posted a link to online allegations against the teashop owners on his Facebook page just hours before the latest unrest flared up.

He has since posted only about Buddhist victims of the violence, ramping up the tension with allegations that Mandalay's mosques have issued a "jihad" with hundreds of people poised to launch an attack after receiving "military training".

A Mandalay resident, who was a friend of the slain Muslim, said the victim was beaten to death by a group of five or six men early Thursday.

"He did not have anything to do with the violence. He was just going to the mosque to pray," he told AFP, asking not to be named for fear of reprisals.

"We cannot say the situation in Mandalay has calmed down yet. We are living in fear. We do not know what will happen."

Mandalay, which is about a three hour drive from the capital Nay Pyi Taw, has large Muslim and ethnic Chinese populations.

But it is also known as the country's monastic heartland and is home to tens of thousands of monks, including Wirathu.

His radical Buddhist nationalist movement has proposed boycotts of Muslim businesses and backed suggestions for a series of controversial laws -- due to be debated by parliament -- that would restrict religious freedoms.

Police in Mandalay said they were aware of the rape allegation but had not yet made any arrests.

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