In Pictures: Myanmar's sectarian divide - Al Jazeera English

In Pictures: Myanmar's sectarian divide

As riots erupt in northern Shan state, a look at the "Buddhist 969" movement that is promoting anti-Muslim sentiment.

Brennan O'Connor |

Meikhtila, Myanmar - Relations between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar continue to deteriorate with mobs attacking Muslim neighbourhoods across the country.

The sectarian strife spread to northern Shan state on Tuesday, after a Buddhist mob torched a mosque, a Muslim religious school, and several shops. It was the third outbreak of anti-Muslim violence to flare up in Myanmar this year. 

The violence continued on Wednesday, with Buddhist and Muslim crowds fighting each other with machetes and swords, and at least one person was killed. A group was reportedly attempting burn down the sole remaining mosque in Lashio city. 

In late March, angry mobs burned mostly Muslim homes in Meikhtila in Mandalay division - about 540km north of the commercial capital Yangon - killing more than 40 people, mostly Muslims. 

In late April, rioters set fire to more than 150 Muslim homes after a Muslim woman on a bicycle bumped into a novice monk, spilling his alms bowl. One person was killed and nine others were injured. The woman who bumped into the monk has been charged with "deliberate and malicious acts".

The violence has coincided with the growth of the "Buddhist 969" movement, which is frequently tied to attacks against Muslim communities.

In Buddhism in Myanmar, the three numbers 969 represent the "three crown jewels": the nine attributes of Buddha; six attributes of his teachings; and nine attributes of the monastic order known as the Sangha. But now the numbers that are popping up all over the country represent something far different - hatred against Muslims.  

One of the group's leaders, Ashin Wirathu, preaches about the dangers of a Muslim conspiracy trying to convert the country to Islam by marrying Buddhist women.

Known as the "Burmese Bin Laden", Wirathu was jailed for inciting riots in 2003, when 11 Muslims died after a mosque was torched. Wirathu was released from prison in 2012. 

A month before violence erupted last March, Wirathu visited Meikhtila to deliver a three-day sermon on the evils of Islam. He was also there with his devotees when the town was set ablaze.

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