Buddhist mobs 'target aid workers' in Myanmar's Rakhine

File photo: Rakhine state Image copyright AP
Image caption Rakhine state has been the site of outbreaks of violence mostly affecting the Muslim Rohingya minority

Police in Myanmar's Rakhine state have fired warning shots in an attempt to disperse crowds gathered outside offices of international aid workers.

Hundreds of Buddhists threw rocks at homes and offices in the capital, Sittwe, starting on Wednesday.

They were angry after a foreign aid worker was alleged to have handled a Buddhist flag with disrespect.

Rakhine state has in recent months seen violence mostly affecting the Muslim Rohingya minority.

Tens of thousands of Rohingya remain displaced in Rakhine in the wake of brutal clashes between Rakhine Buddhists and Muslims in 2012 that left about 200 people dead.

NGOs blocked

The unrest comes ahead of a census that some fear could further raise tensions between Rakhine Buddhists and the Rohingya.

The Rakhine deny that the Rohingya exist, insisting they are Bengalis and belong in neighbouring Bangladesh, reports the BBC's Jonah Fisher in Yangon. They are stateless, because the Myanmar (formerly known as Burma) government denies them citizenship.

Buddhist flags have been hung on many houses ahead of the census and, reports say, this unrest began amid claims a foreign aid worker removed a flag from an NGO office, allegedly handling it with disrespect.

Reports say the demonstrations continued on Thursday, with some offices of aid workers ransacked.

"Although local police, monks and some residents tried to disperse the angry people, they continued throwing stones. So police fired warning shots," Lieutenant Colonel Min Aung told AFP news agency. No one was injured, he added.

There are reports that some aid agencies are considering withdrawing their staff from the area.

International aid agencies have in recent months encountered problems operating in Rakhine.

Last month, the government suspended the operations of aid agency Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF), one of the biggest providers of healthcare in the state.

A presidential spokesman had alleged to the BBC at the time that MSF was biased in favour of Rakhine's Muslim Rohingya minority.

MSF said it operated impartially, based on the needs of the population.

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