YANGON, Myanmar – The funeral of a Buddhist man killed during sectarian violence this week in the central Myanmar city of Mandalay stirred passions Friday but no major new unrest was reported.
Calm was restored to the city with an overnight curfew declared Thursday after two nights of violence by Buddhist extremists against Muslims. One Muslim and one Buddhist were killed, and 14 people were injured. The unrest raised fears that ethnic violence that has plagued the country for two years might escalate again.
Hundreds of people on foot and motorcycle joined the funeral procession Friday for the Buddhist man who had been killed. His hearse was draped with a poster of his bloody body blaming Muslims for his death. The crowd damaged a Muslim cemetery and threw stones at mosques but otherwise avoided violence.
"The situation was tense but no clashes or violence took place," said Than Nyunt, a Muslim elder contacted by phone. Win Mya Mya, a Muslim member of the opposition National League for Democracy party led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi, said some people who wanted to incite unrest shouted that they didn't want any mosques in the city, and were responsible for the stone-throwing.
Security forces have been criticized for failing to do much to stop the two nights of violence. A Buddhist resident of Mandalay, who was a political prisoner under the country's former military regime, criticized the regional government on Friday "for their failure to stop the mob and the violence." He said they did not enforce a ban on assemblies of more than five people that was imposed Thursday.
Myanmar, a predominantly Buddhist nation, has been grappling with violence since 2012 that has left up to 280 people dead and 140,000 others homeless, most of them Muslims attacked by Buddhist militants. Most of it has taken place in western Rakhine state.
This week's unrest was the first in Mandalay, an important center of Buddhist culture and learning where Muslims and Buddhists have traditionally lived peacefully together.
The Mandalay regional government posted details of the attacks on its website Friday, officially identifying the victims by name and religion for the first time and noting that a group of 50 people including 20 Buddhist monks took part. Mandalay Chief Minister Ye Myint said four people were arrested.
Five Muslim men were taken into detention from a mosque Friday morning during prayers, according to Shine Win of the Peace and Harmony Interfaith Group, who said they were told they were needed for questioning.
Muslim-owned shops reopened in areas where Buddhist mobs on motorbikes had driven through the streets wielding sticks and hurling stones.
"We were able to say our prayers peacefully, and we all had a good night's sleep," said resident Tin Aung.
He and others questioned, however, why the government waited two days to clamp down on the mobs, who damaged at least one mosque, shops and torched cars.
"If authorities had taken prompt and immediate action, deaths and damage could have been prevented," said A Mar Ni, a member of a citizens' conflict prevention committee.
The government's website identified the dead as Soe Min Htway, a Muslim who was attacked by a Buddhist mob while on his way to a mosque before dawn Thursday, and Tun Tun, a 30-year-old Buddhist who was attacked by a group of Muslims earlier in the night.
The unrest, which started Tuesday night, 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. An Information Ministry statement on Wednesday said the owner had been charged with rape.
Authorities deployed hundreds of police on Tuesday 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 but failed to control groups that scattered into the streets, throwing stones at a mosque that caused minor damage to its exterior, while others ransacked Muslim-owned shops. Several cars were set on fire or had windows shattered by stones and bricks.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.