7 Rakhines killed as Myanmar police fire on protesters
Yangon: Seven ethnic Rakhine Buddhists died after Myanmar police opened fire on a crowd trying to seize a government office, officials said on Wednesday, in fresh violence in a febrile state already scarred by ethnic and religious hatred.
The incident unfurled as around 5,000 Buddhists gathered late Tuesday for a nationalist ceremony in Mrauk U, a town that has so far remained unscathed by the military's crackdown on the region's minority Rohingya Muslim community.
It was not immediately clear why the rally descended into violence.
But ethnic Rakhine, many of whom are poor and marginalised, have a long-standing enmity with the Myanmar state which is dominated by ethnic Bamar. The clashes came on the same day that a repatriation agreement was signed between Myanmar and Bangladesh to start the return of some 655,000 Muslim Rohingya refugees from squalid camps over the border.
Rakhine say the Rohingya are illegal "Bengali" immigrants to a Buddhist land.
A police spokesman blamed the crowd for "starting the violence" by throwing stones and barging into a district administrative office and hoisting the Rakhine State flag.
"Security forces asked them to disperse and fired warning shots with rubber bullets... but they didn't stop, so police had to use real bullets," spokesman Colonel Myo Soe said.
"Seven people were killed and 13 injured," he said adding more than 20 police were wounded by the crowd, who were calling for the "sovereignty of Rakhine state".
Photographs showed bodies laid out on the floor of a makeshift mortuary in Mrauk U on Wednesday, the clothes of the victims stained with blood.
The shootings further raise the temperature in an already combustible area of Myanmar.
"It's not forgivable that they used guns," Mrauk U lawmaker Oo Hla Saw of the Arakan National Party said, confirming the death toll and labelling the police action "a crime".