Fear grips western Myanmar after five Muslims killed



THANDWE, Myanmar // Terrified women and children hid in forests and police patrolled tense villages in western Myanmar Wednesday, residents said, following sectarian clashes which left five Muslims dead and prompted international alarm.

A day after riots shook the area, president Thein Sein arrived in the town of Thandwe as part of his first visit to Rakhine state since a wave of religious violence erupted there last year.

Around 800 Buddhist rioters swept through one village on Tuesday burning homes and attacking Muslims, according to authorities.

“We are living in fear. Many people, including women and children, are hiding in the forest nearby,” local Muslim official Myint Aung said.

“We are disappointed that we have a government that is unable to provide security for us,” he said, adding that the police had fired warning shots but could not control the mob.

Five Muslims were killed, a local police official said, including a 94-year-old woman who was stabbed to death.

Four Buddhists were injured in the fighting and a fifth was missing, while 59 houses and a mosque have been torched since tensions flared on Saturday, police said.

A large security presence was seen in the area on Wednesday. Locals picked through the charred rubble of a burnt-out mosque in one village, according to reporters.

The international community has expressed growing disquiet at the fresh unrest in the strife-racked region, where tens of thousands of people remain displaced from earlier clashes that have left Buddhists and Muslims increasingly alienated from one another.

The United States said it was “deeply concerned” about the latest unrest and urged authorities to respond “decisively”, in a statement issued by its embassy in Yangon.

United Nations Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon called for “urgent action by the government to protect the vulnerable population” in a meeting with Myanmar’s foreign minister on Tuesday, the UN said.

Around 250 people have been killed and more than 140,000 left homeless in several outbreaks of Buddhist-Muslim violence around the country since June 2012, mostly in Rakhine.

Attacks on minority Muslims have overshadowed political reforms in Myanmar as it emerges from military rule, piling pressure on Thein Sein, a former junta general who took power in 2011.

The Myanmar leader is expected to meet community leaders in Thandwe on Thursday after staying in the area overnight.

The region is home to the popular tourist destination of Ngapali Beach although no foreigners were believed to have been caught up in the unrest.

Thein Sein spent Tuesday visiting a different area of Rakhine populated mainly by stateless Rohingya Muslims.

In a message to a multi-faith conference carried in state media on Wednesday, he lamented “instigations” that turned “minor crimes into conflicts between the two communities and two religions”.

Four major Myanmar Muslim organisations released an open letter to Thein Sein late Tuesday calling on the government to take urgent law-enforcement action.

“The concerns of minority Muslims around the country have reached peak levels. They feel they have no security,” the letter said.

Two outbreaks of unrest in Rakhine last year left about 200 people dead, mostly Rohingya who are denied citizenship by Myanmar and viewed by the government and many local people as illegal immigrants from neighbouring Bangladesh.

The latest clashes follow an argument over a parking space near a Muslim home last week.

Rights groups have in the past accused Myanmar security forces of complicity in the violence -- an allegation denied by the authorities.

Thousands of Rohingya boat people -- including women and children -- have fled the former junta-ruled country since last year, mostly heading for Malaysia on a perilous sea voyage.

* Agence France-Presse

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Iraq negotiating over Iran sanctions impact
  • US sanctions on Iran’s energy industry and exports took effect on Monday, November 5.
  • Washington issued formal waivers to eight buyers of Iranian oil, allowing them to continue limited imports. Iraq did not receive a waiver.
  • Iraq’s government is cooperating with the US to contain Iranian influence in the country, and increased Iraqi oil production is helping to make up for Iranian crude that sanctions are blocking from markets, US officials say.
  • Iraq, the second-biggest producer in the Organization of Petroleum Exporting Countries, pumped last month at a record 4.78 million barrels a day, former Oil Minister Jabbar Al-Luaibi said on Oct. 20. Iraq exported 3.83 million barrels a day last month, according to tanker tracking and data from port agents.
  • Iraq has been working to restore production at its northern Kirkuk oil field. Kirkuk could add 200,000 barrels a day of oil to Iraq’s total output, Hook said.
  • The country stopped trucking Kirkuk oil to Iran about three weeks ago, in line with U.S. sanctions, according to four people with knowledge of the matter who asked not to be identified because they aren’t allowed to speak to media.
  • Oil exports from Iran, OPEC’s third-largest supplier, have slumped since President Donald Trump announced in May that he’d reimpose sanctions. Iran shipped about 1.76 million barrels a day in October out of 3.42 million in total production, data compiled by Bloomberg show.
  • Benchmark Brent crude fell 47 cents to $72.70 a barrel in London trading at 7:26 a.m. local time. U.S. West Texas Intermediate was 25 cents lower at $62.85 a barrel in New York. WTI held near the lowest level in seven months as concerns of a tightening market eased after the U.S. granted its waivers to buyers of Iranian crude.
Four reasons global stock markets are falling right now

There are many factors worrying investors right now and triggering a rush out of stock markets. Here are four of the biggest:

1. Rising US interest rates

The US Federal Reserve has increased interest rates three times this year in a bid to prevent its buoyant economy from overheating. They now stand at between 2 and 2.25 per cent and markets are pencilling in three more rises next year.

Kim Catechis, manager of the Legg Mason Martin Currie Global Emerging Markets Fund, says US inflation is rising and the Fed will continue to raise rates in 2019. “With inflationary pressures growing, an increasing number of corporates are guiding profitability expectations downwards for 2018 and 2019, citing the negative impact of rising costs.”

At the same time as rates are rising, central bankers in the US and Europe have been ending quantitative easing, bringing the era of cheap money to an end.

2. Stronger dollar

High US rates have driven up the value of the dollar and bond yields, and this is putting pressure on emerging market countries that took advantage of low interest rates to run up trillions in dollar-denominated debt. They have also suffered capital outflows as international investors have switched to the US, driving markets lower. Omar Negyal, portfolio manager of the JP Morgan Global Emerging Markets Income Trust, says this looks like a buying opportunity. “Despite short-term volatility we remain positive about long-term prospects and profitability for emerging markets.” 

3. Global trade war

Ritu Vohora, investment director at fund manager M&G, says markets fear that US President Donald Trump’s spat with China will escalate into a full-blown global trade war, with both sides suffering. “The US economy is robust enough to absorb higher input costs now, but this may not be the case as tariffs escalate. However, with a host of factors hitting investor sentiment, this is becoming a stock picker’s market.”

4. Eurozone uncertainty

Europe faces two challenges right now in the shape of Brexit and the new populist government in eurozone member Italy.

Chris Beauchamp, chief market analyst at IG, which has offices in Dubai, says the stand-off between between Rome and Brussels threatens to become much more serious. "As with Brexit, neither side appears willing to step back from the edge, threatening more trouble down the line.”

The European economy may also be slowing, Mr Beauchamp warns. “A four-year low in eurozone manufacturing confidence highlights the fact that producers see a bumpy road ahead, with US-EU trade talks remaining a major question-mark for exporters.”

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