International Desk: Myanmar police said Wednesday they opened fire on a crowd of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists as they tried to seize a government office, in unrest that left seven dead in a state already scored by violence and bitter divisions.
The incident unfurled as around 5,000 Buddhists gathered late Tuesday for a nationalist ceremony in Mrauk U, a town that has so far remained unscathed by the military’s crackdown on the region’s minority Rohingya Muslim community.
It was not immediately clear why the rally descended into violence.
But ethnic Rakhine, many of whom are poor and marginalized, have a long-standing enmity with the Myanmar state which is dominated by ethnic Bamar.
The clashes also came on the same day as a repatriation agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start the return of some 655,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from squalid camps back over the border.
The ethnic Rakhine revile the Rohingya, who they decry as illegal “Bengali” immigrants to a Buddhist land.
A police spokesman blamed the crowd for “starting the violence” by throwing stones and barging into a district administrative office and hoisting the Rakhine State flag.
risingbd/Jan 17, 2018/Mukul