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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 05:26 GMT
'50 arrested' over India train attack
The gutted wreckage of one of the train cars
Stone-throwers forced the train to stop and set it alight
Up to 50 people have been arrested in connection with an arson attack on a train in the western Indian state of Gujarat, which killed at least 57 people, government officials said.

In an interview with the BBC, the state's home minister, Gobhardan Jhorapia, implied that those arrested were all Muslims.

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 attack on the train, which was carrying Hindu pilgrims, is being blamed on suspected Muslim militants.

Security has been stepped up across India in an attempt to avert religious clashes.

Police in Gujarat said three people had been stabbed to death in apparent retaliation for Wednesday's attack at Godhra, a town with a sizeable Muslim minority.

Children killed

The passengers were supporters of an extreme right-wing group, which is threatening to build a Hindu temple on a site in the city of Ayodhya, where extremists tore down a mosque in 1992, sparking widespread rioting.

Charred bodies recovered from the train
The prime minister appealed for restraint

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

The train - crammed with Hindus returning from the disputed religious site - came under a barrage of stones and was then set alight as it pulled out of a station in Godhra. The town has a history of Hindu-Muslim violence.

Fifteen children were among the dead.

Several carriages were gutted and some victims were burnt 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 Mr 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 appealed 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
"The remains of the dead have now been removed"
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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