Burma's army has taken control of a ruined central city, imposing a tense calm after several days of clashes between Buddhists and Muslims left piles of corpses in the streets and buildings ablaze in the worst sectarian bloodshed to hit the country this year.
Truckloads of soldiers could be seen patrolling Meikhtila and taking up positions at intersections and banks as authorities delivered food and water to thousands of displaced Muslims. Some residents, who had cowered indoors since the mayhem began Wednesday, emerged from their homes to take in the destruction.
President Thein Sein, a former general who vowed to bring democracy to Burma after half a century of military rule, imposed a state of emergency in the region on Friday to stop violence from spreading.
The unrest was the first of its kind in Burma since two similar bouts of bloodshed shook western Rakhine state last year, and its spread highlights the government's failure to rein in anti-Muslim sentiment in a predominantly Buddhist country, where even monks have staged anti-Muslim rallies and called on their supporters to drive out opponents with arms.
It was not clear which side bore the brunt of the latest unrest, but terrified Muslims, who make up about 30% of Meikhtila's 100,000 inhabitants, stayed off the streets Friday as their shops and homes burned as angry Buddhist residents and monks tried to stop firefighters from dousing the blazes. Riot police criss-crossed the town seizing machetes and hammers from anxious Buddhist mobs.
At least five mosques were torched and thousands of Muslims have fled their homes, escorted away by police to two makeshift camps. Some Buddhists, meanwhile, have sought shelter at local monasteries.
"Calm has been restored after troops have taken charge of security," said Win Htein, an opposition MP from Meikhtila. "So far, nearly 6,000 Muslim people have been relocated at a stadium and a police station for their safety."
Residents said rescue workers and volunteers were arriving from other towns to help, and local Buddhists were giving food and water to displaced Muslims.