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Myanmar Police Fire Warning Shots After Religious Tension

Rakhine state, Myanmar
Rakhine state, Myanmar

Police in Myanmar's main city fired warning shots overnight to break up a confrontation between dozens of Buddhists and Muslims that left at least one person injured.

It was the latest manifestation of years of rising anti-Muslim sentiment in the predominantly Buddhist nation, where ultra-nationalist Buddhist monks and their supporters forced the closure of two Muslim schools in Yangon last month.

The confrontation began after midnight Wednesday when Buddhist hard-liners entered a Muslim neighborhood claiming some ethnic Rohingya Muslims were hiding "illegally" in the area, a police officer said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the situation.

Rohingya in Myanmar are largely denied citizenship and basic rights. The majority of them - more than 1 million - live in western Myanmar's Rakhine state and cannot travel without special permission.

An Associated Press reporter in Yangon saw around 30 Buddhists on the streets, including monks. Some were armed with stones, as were Muslims who were poised to defend themselves.

Police fired two warning shots to disperse the crowds. At least one Muslim man was hospitalized with injuries to his head.

Tensions between Buddhist and Muslims has spread across Myanmar since violent conflict broke out between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya in 2012.

Violence in Rakhine state flared again last year when Rohingya launched a small insurgency, leading to massive retaliation by Myanmar's army, which rights groups say has killed hundreds of people and forced around 75,000 to flee to neighboring Bangladesh.