YANGON Myanmar police fired rubber bullets on Wednesday to disperse crowds of Buddhists and Muslims facing off in the streets of Mandalay, the country's second-largest city, police said.
Myanmar has been racked by violence between the two communities since June 2012. More than 200 people have been killed and at least 140,000 displaced. Most of the victims have been from the minority Muslim population.
Police deployed more than 600 officers after a crowd of about 300 Buddhists including 30 monks began throwing stones near a tea shop owned by a Muslim man at 11 p.m. (5.30 p.m. BST) on Tuesday, according to a statement released by Mandalay police.
"One policeman, three Buddhists and one Muslim were injured by stones in the incident," the statement said. "Two of the three injured Buddhist men are receiving treatment in Mandalay hospital and the rest got treatment as outpatients.”
Police said they fired three rubber bullets in an attempt to control the crowd, which dispersed at around 3:15 a.m. on Wednesday after monks helped convince people to leave.
A witness who lives in the mostly Muslim neighbourhood said a Buddhist mob had gathered after rumours spread that the Muslim owner of a tea shop had raped a Buddhist woman.
Mandalay police confirmed in the statement that a charge of rape had been filed against the owner. They said they had put the shop under surveillance after receiving a tip that it would be targeted.
Police stood between the groups of Muslims and Buddhists and tried to drive the Buddhists away, the witness told Reuters.
"The police and the crowd fought each other and the crowd threw stones at the police," he said, asking not to be named out of concern for his safety.
He said the Buddhist mob ransacked shops and burned vehicles before police managed to restore order, but that at 6 a.m. Buddhists were still driving through the neighbourhood shouting at residents.
(Reporting by Jared Ferrie, Aung Hla Tun and Soe Zeya Tun; Editing by Alan Raybould and Jeremy Laurence)