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Wednesday, 27 February, 2002, 18:40 GMT
Scores killed in India train attack
The gutted wreckage of one of the train cars
Stone-throwers forced the train to stop and set it alight
At least 57 people were killed when a furious mob set fire to a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in north-western India - causing the prime minister to cancel a key foreign trip.

Police blamed Muslims for the attack and imposed a curfew in the area.

Appealing for calm and an end to religious violence, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee called off his trip to a Commonwealth summit in Australia.

Do not let emotions sway you. The unity and communal harmony of India will have to be protected at all costs. The government is very worried about this incident

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
The train - crammed with Hindus returning from a disputed religious site - came under a barrage of stones and was then set alight as it pulled out of a station in Godhra - a town in the western state of Gujarat.

The town has a history of Hindu-Muslim violence.

Fifteen children were among the dead.

Several carriages were gutted and some victims were burned beyond recognition, officials said.

Ayodhya row

The Hindus on the Sabarmati Express train on Wednesday had travelled to Gujarat from Ayodhya - the focus of bitter clashes with Muslims 10 years ago after Hindu militants tore down a mosque there.

Some 2,000 people were killed in nationwide riots that broke out after the demolition of Ayodhya's 16th-century Babri mosque.

The right-wing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) group has vowed to build a temple on the ruins of the mosque - and thousands of people are now reported to be gathering at the site.

After what Gujarat's Home Minister, Gobhardan Jhorapia, told the BBC was a "pre-planned" attack, Mr Vajpayee urged the VHP to step back from the campaign to build the Ayodhya temple.

"I appeal to the people to be patient, exercise restraint, and be calm," he said.

"Do not let emotions sway you. The unity and communal harmony of India will have to be protected at all costs. The government is very worried about this incident."

Charred bodies recovered from the train
The prime minister has issued a plea for restraint
In addition to the children's bodies, the charred remains of 17 men and 25 women have also been recovered.

Dozens more passengers were injured and 38 were said to be in critical condition.

"I heard screams for help as I came out of the house. I saw a huge ball of fire," said Rakesh Kimani, 18, who lives nearby.

"I saw... people putting out their hands and heads through the windows trying to escape. It was a horrible sight," he said.

Journey of horror

"We have been through hell," said passenger Sanjay Kumar who arrived in Ahmedabad after the undamaged part of the train was allowed to continue.

"We don't know the fate of many passengers who were with us."

The BBC's Jill McGivering, reporting from Delhi, says the trouble appears to have started after some of the Hindus taunted a crowd of Muslims, who responded by hurling stones.

Since the train attack:

  • Tens of thousands of Hindus who had gathered at Ayodhya for the building of the temple surrounded the site to protect it, reports said.

  • Curfew was declared in Godhra and police were told to shoot troublemakers on sight.

  • A 17-year-old boy was killed by police dispersing looters in Godhra.

  • Two buses were burnt in separate incidents in Ahmedabad.

  • The VHP, also known as the World Hindu Council, called for a strike in the state of Gujarat on Thursday.

  • The Home Ministry urged officials in Uttar Pradesh state to monitor the influx of Hindu activists to Ayodhya.

  • Police stepped up patrols in other Indian cities with large Muslim populations.

Raju Bhargav, Godhra's superintendent of police, said Hindus and Muslims had clashed during last weekend's Muslim festival of Eid al-Adha in the nearby town of Baruch.

"This could have been in retaliation to the trouble on Eid," he said.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"This is one of the worse acts of religious hatred India has ever seen"
World Hindu Council of America's Gauran Vaishnav
"This is not a question of Hindu against Muslim"
Gujarat Home Minister, Gobhardan Jhorapia
"We are rounding up the people who are suspected in this incident"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | South Asia
Vajpayee firm on Ayodhya
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
Timeline: Ayodhya crisis
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
Q&A: The Ayodhya dispute
27 Feb 02 | South Asia
In pictures: India train attack
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
Militants converge on Ayodhya
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners' Ayodhya strategy
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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