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State of emergency declared as death toll rises to 20 in Myanmar religious riots

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Firemen attempt to extinguish fires during riots in Meikhtila, Myanmar, on March 22, 2013. Unrest between Buddhists and Muslims in central Myanmar has reduced neighborhoods to ashes and stoked fears that last year's sectarian bloodshed is spreading into the country's heartland in a test of Asia's newest democracy.

Nyein Chan Naing / EPA

A riot policeman stands guard next to a burning building in Meikhtila on March 22, 2013. A curfew was imposed for the second night as riots between Buddhists and Muslims continued.

By The Associated Press

MEIKHTILA, Myanmar — Myanmar President Thein Sein has declared a state of emergency in a central town where at least 20 people have been killed in violence between Buddhists and Muslims.

Burning fires from two days of Buddhist-Muslim violence smoldered across Meikhtila on Friday as residents cowered indoors amid growing fears the country's latest bout of sectarian bloodshed could spread.

The government's struggle to contain the unrest is proving another major challenge to Thein Sein's reformist administration as it attempts to chart a path to democracy after nearly half a century of military rule that once crushed all dissent. Read the full story.

Nyein Chan Naing / EPA

People carry their belongings as they arrive at a temporary rescue center in Meikhtila on March 22, 2013.

Soe Than Win / AFP - Getty Images

Residents sit on a railway track watching buildings burn around a mosque in riot-hit Meikhtila on March 21, 2013.

Soe Zeya Tun / Reuters

Burnt houses are seen in Meikhtila on March 21, 2013.