MEIKHTILA, Myanmar — Myanmar’s president declared a state of emergency Friday in a central city shaken by sectarian bloodshed that has killed at least 20 people, as thousands of minority Muslims fled and overwhelmed riot police crisscrossed the still-burning town seizing machetes and hammers from enraged Buddhist mobs.
Black smoke and flames poured from destroyed buildings in Meikhtila, where the unrest between local Buddhist and Muslim residents erupted Wednesday — the latest challenge to Myanmar’s ever-precarious transition to democratic rule.
Little appeared to be left of some palm tree-lined neighborhoods, where whole plots were reduced to smoldering masses of twisted debris and ash. Broken glass, destroyed motorcycles and overturned tables littered roads beside rows of burnt-out homes and shops, evidence of the widespread chaos of the last two days.
The devastation was reminiscent of strikingly similar scenes last year in western Myanmar, where sectarian violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Muslim Rohingya left hundreds of people dead. More than 100,000 people are still displaced from that conflict, almost all of them Muslim.