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Bangladesh blames temple attacks on refugees

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Bangladesh accused Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar on Monday of involvement in attacks on Buddhist temples and homes in the southeast and said the violence was triggered by a photo posted on Facebook that insulted Islam.

Thousands of Muslims went on a rampage in Buddhist areas of Bangladesh near the border on Saturday, setting ablaze more than a dozen temples and monasteries and at least 50 homes. Property was looted, including statues of the Buddha.

“The attacks on temples and houses in Buddhist localities in Ramu and neighboring areas in Cox's Bazar (district) were perpetrated by radical Islamists,” Home Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir told reporters in Dhaka.

“Rohingyas and political opponents of the government were also involved in the attacks.”

He described the attacks as a “premeditated and deliberate attempt” to disrupt communal harmony.

It was one of the worst sectarian attacks in Bangladesh, spreading fear throughout the Buddhist minority.

Police said violence spread to the port of Chittagong, where at least two temples were vandalized. But police drove the attackers away and tightened security around Buddhist areas.

Police said they arrested nearly 170 people on suspicion of vandalism and an investigation was ordered into the violence.

Rohingyas were involved in a week of rioting with Buddhist Rakhines across the border in Myanmar last June and aid agencies say they bore the brunt of a government crackdown to halt the violence.

Rohingyas are not included in any census in multi-ethnic Myanmar and have no citizenship. Bangladesh does not accept them and pushed back out to sea refugees fleeing that unrest.

Police said the latest attacks were launched after Muslims found a Facebook photo of a burned Koran, allegedly posted by a young Buddhist man who was taken into safe custody by police. The Facebook account was closed.

Leaders of the Buddhist community, which makes up less than 1 percent of Bangladesh's population of 150 million, accused unidentified activists of sowing discord.

“The situation has been under control since Sunday but we are adding forces to vulnerable areas to ensure the peace is kept,” said Serajul Haque Khan, top civil administrator of the Chittagong division.

Many Bangladeshi Muslims have taken part in protests in recent days against a film made in California and deemed insulting to Islam.

Though most Rohingyas were turned back from Bangladesh during last June's violence, local residents accuse some of infiltrating the country and teaming up with Islamists.

Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina, attending the U.N. General Assembly in New York, called for tough measures to prevent further attacks on minority communities, state media reported.

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