Myanmar riots stoke fears of widening sectarian violence

Myanmar has declared martial law in four central townships after unrest between Buddhists and Muslims stoked fears that last year’s sectarian bloodshed was spreading into the country’s heartland in a test of Asia’s newest democracy.

State television said President Thein Sein had declared a state of emergency and imposed martial law in the four districts, placing the military, rather than local police, in charge of security. Authorities imposed an overnight curfew on Wednesday March 20.

Twenty people have been killed and dozens wounded since then, said Win Htein, a lawmaker for the opposition National League for Democracy (NLD) party.

Two camps now held more than 2,000 people displaced by the fighting, he added.

The unleashing of ethnic hatred, suppressed during 49 years of military rule that ended in March 2011, is challenging the reformist government of one ofAsia’s most ethnically diverse countries.

Jailed dissidents have been released, a free election held and censorship lifted in Myanmar’s historic democratic transition. But the government has faced mounting criticism over its failure to stop the bloodshed between Buddhists and Muslims