SITTWE, Myanmar - Northwest Myanmar was tense on Monday after sectarian violence engulfed its largest city at the weekend, with Reuters witnessing rival mobs of Muslims and Buddhists torching houses and police firing into the air to disperse crowds.

At least seven people have been killed and many hurt, authorities say, in the worst communal violence since a reformist government replaced a military junta last year and vowed to forge unity in one of Asia's most ethnically diverse countries.

The fighting erupted on Friday in the Rakhine State town of Maungdaw, but has spread to the capital Sittwe and nearby villages, prompting the government to declare a state of emergency late on Sunday and impose a dawn-to-dusk curfew.

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