A mosque burns in Meikhtila, central Myanmar, during sectarian riots that killed at least 43 and drove nearly 13,000 people, mostly Muslims, from their homes.
The unrest is one example of ethnic violence unleashed in Myanmar since 49 years of military rule ended in March 2011. It is spreading, threatening the country's historic democratic transition, and signs have emerged of ethnic cleansing, along with impunity for those inciting it.
26 Mar 2013. Meikhtila, Myanmar. REUTERS/Minzayar
A Muslim woman salvages belongings from her home, damaged in riots that broke out in Meikhtila on March 20 and raged for four days. They caused dozens of deaths, including a dawn massacre of 25 Muslims led by Buddhist monks - often held up as icons of democracy in Myanmar. The killings took place in plain view of police, with no intervention by the local or central government.
Authorities imposed martial law on the afternoon of March 22, the third day of violence. By then, only three people had been arrested, all of them for carrying weapons, a police official said. As they began to make more arrests, the unrest ended the next day.
The bloodshed was followed by Buddhist-led mob violence in at least 14 other villages in Myanmar's central heartlands and put the Muslim minority on edge across one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.
21 Mar 2013. Meikhtila, Myanmar. REUTERS/Soe Zeya Tun
A person's corpse burns in the street during the violence in Meikhtila.
The unrest was sparked by a dispute between a Buddhist couple and the Muslim owners of a gold shop, which spiralled into a riot.
The first man to die was a Buddhist monk slain by Muslims, but the following morning an attack took place in which up to 25 Muslims were killed. A Buddhist mob dragged their bloodied bodies up a hill in a neighbourhood called Mingalarzay Yone and set the corpses on fire.
Some were found butchered in a swamp. A Reuters cameraman saw the charred remains of two children, aged 10 or younger.
16 Dec 2012. MANDALAY, Myanmar. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun
On the streets of Meikhtila, witnesses saw monks from well-known local monasteries as well as others from Mandalay, the country's second-largest city. One such visitor was the nationalistic monk Wirathu, pictured here.
Wirathu is an abbot in Mandalay's Masoeyein Monastery, a sprawling complex where he leads about 60 monks and has influence over more than 2,500 residing there. From that power base, he is leading a fast-growing movement known as "969," which encourages Buddhists to shun Muslim businesses and communities.
"We have a slogan: When you eat, eat 969; when you go, go 969; when you buy, buy 969," Wirathu said in an interview. Translation: If you're eating, travelling or buying anything, do it with a Buddhist.
29 Mar 2013. MINHLA, Australia. Reuters/Soe Zeya Tun/Files
A sticker of the anti-Muslim "969" movement is seen at a shop in Minhla.
The three numbers refer to various attributes of the Buddha, his teachings and the monkhood. In practice, the numbers have become the brand of a radical form of anti-Islamic nationalism.