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April 29, 2017

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Nearly 300 held in Bangladesh for attacks on Buddhists

DHAKA, Bangladesh -- Bangladesh police said Tuesday they had arrested nearly 300 people after Muslim mobs attacked temples and houses in what Buddhist leaders described as the worst violence against the community since independence.

A total of 162 people were arrested in Cox's Bazaar, which bore the brunt of the attacks on Saturday and Sunday nights, according to Khorshed Alam, a senior police officer in the southeastern district.

A further 76 were arrested in neighboring Chittagong and 36 in Bandarban district, local police officials said.

Alam told AFP that a final tally of the damage caused by the mobs in Cox's Bazaar had found 11 temples were torched and seven were damaged or ransacked in the district.

At least 20 Buddhist houses were also set on fire, dozens of their shops looted and some 100 houses were damaged during the attack that began after Saturday midnight at Ramu town, with about 25,000 Muslims taking part.

The violence then spread to five towns and a dozen villages, after claims that a young Buddhist man had posted Facebook photos desecrating the Quran. In one, a page of Islam's holy book was shown being flushed down a toilet.

Police said the attack was "organized" after reports that many attackers had been bussed in. Interior Minister Mohiuddin Khan Alamgir blamed radical Islamists for the attacks but did not name any group or parties.

Buddhists, who make up less than one percent of Bangladesh's 153 million mostly Muslim population, are based mainly in southeastern districts, close to the border with Buddhist-majority Myanmar.

According to Ajit Ranjan Barua, the chairman of the Bangladesh Buddhist Association, the weekend violence was on a scale unseen since Bangladesh broke free from Pakistan and declared independence in 1971.

"This is the worst attack on the Buddhist community since Bangladesh's independence, maybe in centuries," Barua told AFP.

"In 1966 during the Pakistani period, there were small attacks, but they were not as violent as the latest one."

Sectarian tensions have been running high since June when deadly clashes erupted between Buddhists and Muslim Rohingyas in Myanmar's western Rakhine state.

The 30-year-old man at the center of the accusations has gone into hiding after telling local media he did not post the picture on the social media site. He insisted someone else had "tagged" him in images on Facebook.

A senior army officer, speaking to AFP on condition of anonymity, said around 1,000 troops had been deployed in Cox's Bazaar district and 300 in nearby Ramu on Monday to promote calm.

"We have secured the temples and Buddhist areas. Our teams have set up tents for the people whose houses were burnt," he told AFP.

"We have adequate forces. Things are getting back to normal."

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