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Sunday, 3 March, 2002, 09:40 GMT
India violence kills nearly 500
A Muslim refugee centre in Ahmedabad
Many on both sides still fear reprisals
Almost 500 people are now said to have been killed in the Indian state of Gujarat, as fighting between Hindus and Muslims spreads from urban to rural areas.

Further incidents of arson and looting have been reported from villages in the state, although the main cities are now said to be relatively calm.

Woman and child in Ahmedabad
Many in Ahmedabad are afraid to leave their homes
The army has moved into major trouble spots and the authorities have imposed curfews and restricted news broadcasts to try to defuse the situation.

Broadcasts by Pakistani TV have been banned within the state, and the Indian Star News channel was also taken off the air temporarily.

The central government has been strongly criticised for not sending in the army sooner to help bring the violence under control.

And the human rights group Amnesty International has urged law enforcement agencies to ensure equal protection to all citizens and stop the cycle of violence and retribution.

The violence erupted when Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu activists on Wednesday, killing 58 people.

Enraged Hindus have retaliated by going on the rampage in Muslim areas, burning many people to death in their homes.

Uneasy calm

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has appealed for calm, saying the "burning alive of people, including women and children is a blot on the country's face".

"Whatever the provocation, people should maintain peace and exercise restraint," he said in a national broadcast.

It is time for the government to assert itself. Build both a temple and a mosque to put the issue to rest

A BBC correspondent says an uneasy calm is still in place in Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital, where more than 100 people have been killed.

Government security official Ashok Narayan told Reuters news agency that the death toll had been going up as bodies were recovered rather than because of any fresh violence.

The latest reports of arson and looting have come from rural areas in the north of the state.

A police source told Reuters that a large crowd tried to set fire to a Muslim settlement in Sabarkantha district, and three people were stabbed to death in the neighbouring Banashkantha district.

"It is now turning into a low grade communal fever that could run for weeks," the officer said.

But on the streets, some Hindus shunned the call for peace.

Graffiti on a wall on the outskirts of Ahmedabad read: "Learn from us how to burn Muslims."

Self defence groups

Gujarat's Chief Minister Narendra Modi said: "Ahmedabad is returning to normal. We believe the rest of the state will also soon recover."

But some Ahmedabad residents said they had set up self-defence groups to keep vigil at night.

Locator map
Groups of young Hindus brandished sticks outside their homes and said they feared reprisal attacks from Muslims.

Nearly 100 Muslims are reported to have taken refuge inside a mosque in the Kalupur area of Ahmedabad.

"We are trying to save ourselves today but we will hit back," said one of those who had taken shelter.

The Hindus who died on the train were members of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parashad (VHP) party, returning from a disputed holy site in the town of Ayodhya in the state of Uttar Pradesh.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have been building because the VHP wants to begin building a temple at Ayodhya, on the site where supporters of the VHP and other Hindu groups razed a mosque in 1992.

That triggered savage rioting throughout India in which more than 2,000 people died.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"Many want revenge"
The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The rioting seems to have a momentum of its own"
See also:

26 Feb 02 | South Asia
Vajpayee firm on Ayodhya
25 Feb 02 | South Asia
Militants converge on Ayodhya
01 Mar 02 | Media reports
Indian press shocked by bloodshed
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
01 Mar 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Bloodshed in Gujarat
01 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Troops in Gujarat
02 Mar 02 | South Asia
Ravaged Ahmedabad limps back to life
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