Ethnic strife continues in western Myanmar city

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SITTWE, Myanmar — With residents cowering indoors, security forces patrolling a tense town in western Myanmar collected bodies today from homes burned to ashes in some of the country’s deadliest sectarian bloodshed in years.

The conflict along ethnic and religious lines has left at least seven people dead and hundreds of homes torched since Friday and poses one the biggest tests yet for Myanmar’s new government as it tries to reform the nation after generations of military rule. The handling of the unrest will draw close scrutiny from Western powers, which have praised President Thein Sein’s administration and rewarded it by easing years of harsh economic sanctions.

Thein Sein declared a state of emergency in the region late Sunday and pleaded for an end to the “endless anarchic vengeance.”

The unrest — trigged by the rape and murder last month of a Buddhist girl, allegedly by three Muslims, and the June 3 lynching of 10 Muslims in apparent retaliation — stems from long-standing ethnic and religious tensions.

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