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Archive for Saturday, March 2, 2002

Nearly 300 dead in India violence

March 2, 2002

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— Religious riots that have killed almost 300 people appeared to be confined to western India, officials said Friday, as soldiers patrolled the capital of Gujarat state and police shot rioters who refused to go home.

The worst violence Friday, the third day of clashes between Hindus and Muslims, happened during a funeral procession. Hindu mourners attacked Muslims in a village in Gujarat, setting fires that killed at least 33 people, officials said.

In the rest of India, which is braced for the sectarian strife to spread, human-rights activists protested in Calcutta and New Delhi, and hard-line Hindus blocked trains in Bombay.

But there was no major violence, nothing like the riots of 10 years ago, when more than 2,000 people died after Hindus ripped down an ancient Islamic mosque in the town of Ayodhya.

The same hard-line Hindu group that incited the destruction of that mosque called for a national strike Friday. But most parts of India ignored the call of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council.

"The worst is over," K. Nityanandam, the home secretary of Gujarat state, said late Friday. "Compare what has not happened today with what happened yesterday and the day before."

On Wednesday, a train was attacked as it carried 2,500 Hindus home from a religious ceremony in Ayodhya. After the Hindus shouted slogans from the train, a mob of Muslims set the train on fire in Gujarat, killing 58 people, burning many of them alive.

On Thursday, despite appeals for calm, Hindus retaliated in Gujarat, which has long been a hotbed of religious friction in India, where about 13 percent of the population of 1 billion are Muslims.

At least 151 people, mostly Muslims, died in the rioting. Most lived in Ahmadabad, Gujarat's capital. Rioters targeted Muslim businesses and homes, running through the city with cans of kerosene, setting cars on fire.

Elsewhere in the state, crowds burned down a shantytown, a center for Islamic studies and a mosque. A mob surrounded a housing complex, and a resident shot at the crowd. He was dragged out and killed, and the complex was set on fire, Nityanandam said.

Police tried to control the rioters with tear gas and batons, and some shot into the crowds. At least 16 rioters died after being shot by police, and the toll was expected to rise.

Nearly 1,200 people have been arrested in the violence so far  80 for the attack on the train and the rest for the rioting that followed, Nityanandam said.

Some witnesses blamed police for standing by and looking the other way as the rioting continued. Although the central government announced plans to send in army troops Thursday night, the troops didn't start patrolling until about noon Friday.

"Groups are moving about, forcing everyone to close their shops," B.R. Malaviya, who lives in Ahmadabad, said Friday. "Actually, the situation is very tense. It is not understood why the government delayed handing it over to the army."

On Friday afternoon, 1,000 soldiers held a flag parade and walked the streets of Ahmadabad, showing their strength and trying to calm people's fears.

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