YANGON, Myanmar – Myanmar's president on Sunday night declared a state of emergency in a western state where sectarian tensions between Buddhists and Muslims have unleashed deadly violence.
It is the first time Thein Sein has invoked the law since he took office early last year. A state of emergency effectively allows the military to take over administrative functions for Rakhine State, a coastal region that borders Bangladesh.
The move follows rioting on Friday in two Rakhine areas that state media say left at least seven people dead and 17 wounded, and saw hundreds of houses burned down. The unrest spread on Saturday and Sunday, though order was said to have been restored in the areas shaken by Friday's violence.
In a nine-minute speech televised nationally, Thein Sein said that the violence in Rakhine State was fanned by dissatisfaction harbored by different religious and ethnic groups, hatred and the desire for vengeance.
"I would like to call upon the people, political parties, religious leaders and the media to join hands with the government with a sense of duty, to help restore peace and stability and to prevent further escalation of violence," Thein Sein said.
Authorities had earlier imposed curfews in the state capital, Sittwe, and three other townships starting Sunday because of elements there acting unlawfully and causing disorder, according to state media. Public gatherings of more than five persons were also banned.
The violence reflects long-standing tensions in Rakhine state between Buddhist residents and Muslims, many of whom are considered to be illegal settlers from neighboring Bangladesh. Although the root of the problem is localized, there is fear that the trouble could spread elsewhere because the split also runs along religious lines.