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Thursday, 28 February, 2002, 16:33 GMT
Communal riots rock western India
Ahmedabad in flames
Authorities fear the violence could spread across India
Violence between Hindus and Muslims sweeping the western Indian state of Gujarat has left more than 40 dead, and the toll is expected to rise.

In the state's largest city, Ahmedabad, 22 Muslims were burnt alive as Hindu mobs went on the rampage to avenge a train attack on Wednesday, blamed on Muslims, which left 58 mostly Hindu activists dead.


Locator map

  • Hindu activists tear down mosque at disputed holy site of Ayodhya in 1992
  • Court case and negotiations fail to resolve the dispute
  • Hindus set 15 March deadline to start building temple and begin converging on the site

      Click here for timeline of Ayodhya dispute

  • The army has been deployed there to counter Hindu youths who have laid waste to whole areas by setting fire to homes, businesses, cars and goods.

    Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi said at least 20 other people had been killed across the state.

    They included six people who were shot dead by police in Ahmedabad as they tried to restore calm.

    The BBC's Jill McGivering says the final death toll from Thursday's violence may never be known.

    Retaliation

    The carnage came a day after a suspected Muslim mob attacked a train carrying activists of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) back from the disputed holy site of Ayodhya.

    "There is a fire inside us. Our blood is boiling," said Mangal Behn, a Hindu resident of Ahmedabad.

    Indian police officer inside a gutted train carriage
    Political leaders have condemned the attack on the train

    "What is the fault of those children who died? There is a volcano of anger," she told Reuters.

    The Hindu VHP group is threatening to build a temple on the site in Ayodhya where hardliners tore down a 16th century mosque in 1992.

    There are widespread fears that the latest clashes could trigger a repeat of the nationwide communal violence that followed the destruction of the mosque.

    Police said almost 700 people had been arrested across the state, and 26 cities have been put under curfew.

    In the city of Godhra, where the train attack took place, 21 Muslim men were among those arrested. The streets there are deserted, with schools and shops closed.

    Devastation

    In Ahmedabad, the air was thick with smoke and the sound of demolition.

    Our correspondent saw parts of a mosque being knocked down as gangs roamed the streets searching for Muslims.

    Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee
    Vajpayee has cancelled his trip to the Commonwealth summit

    Shortly before dark police in riot gear warned the crowd to disperse, then moved in with force when did not.

    Surveying the devastation, one Hindu youth said felt the train attack had been avenged.

    "Now it's fair," he said.

    In Ayodhya, hundreds of armed police fanned out around the disputed site, and no vehicles were allowed in, other than those belonging to police and government officials.

    "We have sealed the city from all sides," a senior police official told the AFP news agency.

    VHP supporters have called for a strike in Uttar Pradesh state on Friday to protest against the train attack.

    The train was set on fire as it passed through the town of Godhra. Several carriages were gutted and some victims were burnt beyond recognition.

    Many of the dead were VHP supporters.

    Communal tensions

    Political leaders have condemned the attack on the train, but also appealed to the VHP not to press ahead with its plans to build a temple on the disputed site in Ayodhya.

    The VHP has said it will defy the orders of the government and the courts and start construction work in March.


    Now it's fair

    Hindu youth in Ahmedabad

    Thousands of VHP supporters have been gathering at the site in recent weeks, chanting slogans.

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

    Mr Vajpayee's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which shares many of the aspirations of Hindu nationalist groups, is under great pressure from opposition parties and from some of its coalition partners to prevent the temple issue escalating.

    But the BBC's Satish Jacob in Delhi says the government's ability to influence hardline Hindu groups like the VHP is in question.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Jill McGivering
    "The masses seized control, the police just watched"
    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
    25 Feb 02 | South Asia
    Militants converge on Ayodhya
    14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: India
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