Myanmar riots kill 20, emergency declared

Rioting and arson attacks spread on Friday to villages outside a city in central Myanmar where clashes between Buddhists and Muslims have left at least 20 dead, according to residents, a member of Parliament and local journalists. A picture of chaos and anarchy emerged from the city of Meiktila, where mobs of Buddhists, some of them led by monks, have ransacked and burned Muslim neighborhoods since Wednesday.

The government declared a state of emergency in Meiktila Friday as the president's office said the declaration would enable the military to help restore order.

U Aung Soe, a reporter for a local weekly journal, said he saw 15 charred bodies on the streets Friday morning. He estimated the death toll at more than 40.

Mobs of rioters attacked Muslims' houses in villages outside Meiktila on Friday, Aung Soe said.

Security forces, which during decades of military rule brutally suppressed any signs of unrest, seemed unable or unwilling to stop the rioting, according to witnesses.

Nyan Lin, a former political prisoner, told the Mizzima news agency that the police "just stood watching the rioters, and did not take any action."

Video footage from Meitkila posted on Friday showed harrowing scenes of what appeared to be Muslim women and men cowering as they fled the violence.

The Associated Press quoted a member of Parliament from Meiktila, U Win Htein, as saying at least five mosques had been burnt since the violence started Wednesday. Win Htein said the death toll was at least 20. Locals were preventing authorities from putting out fires in the city, he told Associated Press.

Journalists said they feared for their safety after Buddhist monks, one of them wielding a sword, forced them to hand over the memory cards in their cameras.

On Thursday, Buddhists, including monks from nearby monasteries, led a rampage through the Muslim quarter of the city of Meiktila seeking to avenge the death of a monk the day before, according to a news photographer who witnessed the fighting.

"The area was like killing field," said photographer Wunna Naing. "Even police told me they could not handle what they witnessed. Children were among victims."

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