YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Authorities imposed a curfew in Myanmar's second largest city Thursday after attacks on minority Muslims left two people dead and 14 injured, raising fears that sectarian violence that has plagued the country for two years may escalate again.
Buddhist mobs on motorbikes drove through the historic city of Mandalay overnight Wednesday, unleashing violence for the second day in a row.
The dead included a Muslim man, who residents said was on his way to a mosque before dawn Thursday when he was attacked by a mob and left dead in the street. The second victim was a Buddhist man whose cause of death was under investigation, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to release information.
"More than 100 motorbikes drove through the city (Wednesday) night throwing stones at mosques and shouting abuses and singing the national anthem to taunt the Muslim people," said Win Mya Mya, a Muslim resident and senior member of the main opposition party, the National League for Democracy.
In response to the violence, authorities imposed a 9 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew, which was announced by cars with loudspeakers cruising the tense city, according to residents contacted by phone. State radio and television reported the measure Thursday night.
Win Mya Mya and others blamed police for failing to control the Buddhist mobs.
Mandalay region chief minister Ye Myint said four people were arrested. He did not provide the religion of the victims or those detained for fear it might inflame the situation. He said legal action would be taken against those instigating violence.
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 extremists. Most of the violence has taken place in western Rakhine state.
The government has faced international criticism for failing to act strongly to stop the violence, which in Rakhine state reportedly occurred several times as security forces looked on.
In an interview with Radio Free Asia broadcast Thursday night, National League for Democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi said the violence in Mandalay could escalate if authorities do not take strong security measures.
"Unless the authorities seriously maintain the rule of law, violence will grow," she said. She said inflammatory material posted on social media had contributed to the instability, a viewpoint shared by Mandalay police chief Col. Zaw Win Aung.
It was the first outbreak of sectarian violence in recent years in Mandalay, an important center of Buddhist culture and learning where Muslims and Buddhists have traditionally lived peacefully together.
In a radio address Thursday, President Thein Sein called for stability as the country transitions to democracy from a half-century of military rule, but did not mention Mandalay specifically.
"For reforms to be successful, I would like to urge all to avoid instigation and behavior that incites hatred in our fellow citizens," Thein Sein said.
In addition to the curfew, officials also banned meetings of more than five people, said Mandalay resident Khin Maung Latt.
Some residents expressed relief that a curfew was imposed. Sein Than, a Muslim, said it should have been initiated earlier in the week.
He said that he had felt unsafe, and that a non-Muslim neighbor had offered to shelter his family. With the curfew in place, he said he could stay at his own home.
This week's violence 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 had 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.
Rioters threw stones at a mosque, causing minor damage to its exterior, and others ransacked a few Muslim-owned shops. Several cars were set on fire or had windows shattered by stones and bricks.
At least four people suffered minor injuries on Tuesday, mostly from stones thrown by the mob or from rubber bullets fired by police, authorities said.
Muslims account for about 4 percent of Myanmar's roughly 60 million people.