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Published: Friday July 4, 2014 MYT 2:40:01 PM
Updated: Friday July 4, 2014 MYT 2:41:17 PM

Myanmar police arrest five as calm returns to Mandalay after riots

MANDALAY Myanmar (Reuters) - Police in Mandalay, Myanmar's second-biggest city, said they had arrested another five people after sectarian violence in which a Buddhist and a Muslim died, but an overnight curfew and a heavy security presence appeared to have restored calm on Friday.

The clampdown followed two nights of violence starting on Tuesday when about 300 Buddhists converged on a tea shop owned by a Muslim man accused of raping a Buddhist woman.

The quasi-civilian government of President Thein Sein, which took office in 2011 following 49 years of repressive military rule, has struggled to contain outbreaks of anti-Muslim violence in which at least 240 people have been killed since June 2012.

Most of the victims have been members of Myanmar's Muslim minority, estimated to be about 5 percent of the population.

An imam at Mandalay's largest mosque told Reuters that the five arrested on Friday were Muslims, held after police searched homes nearby and found ceremonial knives.

"Police definitely know these are used for ceremonial purposes," said Ossaman, the imam. "They were not breaking any law."

A police officer confirmed the arrests but refused to provide further details and asked that his name be withheld as he was not authorised to speak to the media.

The two men who died in the violence were killed in separate incidents. Family and friends said they had taken no part in the riots.

Police said 14 people had been hurt in the rioting and four had been arrested earlier, on Wednesday.

Anti-Muslim violence is not new in Myanmar. The former junta imposed a curfew in Mandalay after riots in the city in 1997 following reports that a Muslim man had raped a Buddhist girl.

But outbreaks of violence have become more common under the reformist government, which lifted restrictions on freedom of speech, including access to the Internet, which had previously been tightly controlled by the military.

(Reporting by Paul Mooney in Mandalay and Jared Ferrie and Aung Hla Tun in Yangon; Editing by Alan Raybould and Jeremy Laurence)

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