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Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter pours water on a Buddha statue as he visits the famed Shwedagon Pagoda Friday, April 5, 2013 in Yangon, Myanmar. Carter arrived in Myanmar Tuesday to support the country’s ongoing democratic transition. (AP Photo/Khin Maung Win)
YANGON, Myanmar (AP) — Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter said Friday he was deeply concerned by a recent upsurge in sectarian violence in Myanmar, saying the unrest could damage the nation’s democratic gains.

Carter made the comments during a visit to the Southeast Asian country, where dozens of people were killed last month when violence between Buddhists and minority Muslims shook the central city of Meikhtila.

Buddhist mobs ransacked and burned mosques and Muslim homes during the turmoil, which spread south from Meikhtila but has since subsided.

“Respect for human rights must be a cornerstone of Myanmar’s political transition process,” Carter told several hundred people during a speech in the main city, Yangon.

“The international community now stands with you. It supports a Myanmar that is diverse, tolerant, multi-ethnic and multi-religious,” he said. “The recent violence risks damaging the reputation that you have gained in your country.”

Carter is visiting Myanmar under the auspices of his Atlanta-based Carter Center, which monitors elections worldwide and is working to eradicate Guinea worm, a human parasite that causes severe pain.

Carter met President Thein Sein on Wednesday and said he told him that “mutual respect, compassion, tolerance, and empathy are the basis for a democratic society.”

Containing the sectarian violence has posed a serious challenge to Thein Sein’s reformist administration as it attempts to institute political and economic liberalization after nearly half a century of military rule, which ended two years ago.

Carter also said he was also disturbed about “reports of hate speech by some prominent people, even religious leaders.”

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