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Friday, 19 April, 2002, 06:32 GMT 07:32 UK
Urgent talks on Gujarat violence
Muslim students returning to their refugee camp from the exams
Fear of violence kept Muslim students away
Indian Defence Minister George Fernandes is in the riot-hit state of Gujarat for consultations as talks to resolve a parliament impasse on the issue failed.

The Indian Government is under pressure following continued Hindu-Muslim clashes in Gujarat in which more than 700 people, mostly Muslims, have died.

Mr Fernandes will spend four days in the state and is expected to decide how long the Indian army is to remain deployed in the state.

The Indian parliament has been deadlocked since Monday over the issue with the opposition pushing for a debate and vote on the Gujarat situation.

Political pressure

The Indian defence minister heads to the troubled state as the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) led federal government is facing the political heat.

Key allies of the federal coalition as well as the opposition have called for the removal of Gujarat's BJP Chief Minister, Narendra Modi, for failing to curb the violence.

Indian troops patrol Gujarat streets
A decision expected on whether the army is to stay
A meeting to resolve the impasse in parliament failed on Friday as the government refused to agree to an opposition demand to a debate on Gujarat followed by a vote.

The meeting was called by the deputy speaker of India's lower house of parliament and was attended by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and opposition leader Sonia Gandhi.

Fears in Gujarat

On Thursday, thousands of Muslim students in Gujarat did not attend school-leaving exams for fear of being attacked.

Muslim leaders said parents refused to let their children travel to exam centres located in Hindu-dominated areas of the state's largest city Ahmedabad and a number of other cities.

Police and paramilitary forces were deployed at exam centres across the state to prevent attacks.

But the police and state authorities have been accused by the Muslim community and human rights groups for turning a blind eye on earlier violence, forcing the government to deploy the army.

On Wednesday, Indian Army Chief, General S Padmanabhan, said he favoured the pull-out of troops as the situation "was normal".

See also:

18 Apr 02 | South Asia
Parliament impasse costs India
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
India's opposition turns up the heat
12 Apr 02 | South Asia
Analysis: BJP's Gujarat tactics
16 Apr 02 | South Asia
Gujarat Muslim women 'rape victims'
12 Apr 02 | South Asia
BJP stands by Gujarat chief
24 Mar 02 | South Asia
Rights panel censures Gujarat
15 Mar 02 | South Asia
India's secularism under threat?
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