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Myanmar protests against foreign aid workers escalate

Protests have flared in Myanmar after an eleven year-old schoolgirl was killed in a police crackdown on demonstrations against foreign aid workers. The European Union has expressed concern.

Local police began patrolling the streets and imposed a dusk to dawn curfew on Friday in the town of Sittwe in Myanmar's Rakhine region, 200 miles (320 kilometers) northwest of the capital Naypyidaw.

Mourners were gathering to pay respects to the child who was killed by a stray bullet when security forces fired warning shots to break up a mob of people protesting outside a UN Food Program warehouse, hurling stones and smashing property.

Flag provocation

The unrest began on Wednesday, when hundreds of Buddhists moved on the offices of the Malteser International aid organization after one of their American aid workers there had allegedly handled a Buddhist flag in a disrespectful manner. She had allegedly removed a Buddhist flag from outside the house and held it close to her hip as she carried it away.

Germany-based Malteser International has denied any intentional provocation and has announced they would move their staff out of the region.

Police have escorted dozens of foreign aid workers to the airport, and several have already left in recent days.

Buddhist nationalists in Rakhine State have accused foreign aid workers of bias in favor of local Muslims, most of whom belong to the Rohingya minority. The aid workers are part of relief efforts for thousands of Rohingyas living in refugee camps in the region.

Muslim minority targeted

Attacks on the minority Muslims have been

flaring up since 2012,

claiming almost 300 lives and forcing more than 200,000 Rohingyas to flee from their homes. The Rohingyas are seen in Myanmar as illegal immigrants from neighboring Bangladesh. They have been classified by the United Nations as one of the world's most persecuted peoples.

Earlier in March,

Doctors Without Borders was ordered to suspend its operations

in Rakhine State following local protests against its support of Rohingya villagers.

"We are very concerned by the wave of hostilities targeting international organizations which provide essential assistance to local communities and the most vulnerable in the Rakhine State of Myanmar," said EU Commissioner for International Cooperation, Humanitarian Aid and Crisis Response, Kristalina Georgieva.

rg/dr (AP, AFP, dpa)

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