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Last Updated: Friday, 19 September, 2003, 10:21 GMT 11:21 UK
Gujarat Hindus face murder retrial
Best Bakery after attack (Photo Sabrang Communications)
Twelve Muslims were burned alive in the Best Bakery in Baroda
India's western state of Gujarat has agreed to seek a retrial of 21 Hindus acquitted of murder during religious riots, following scathing criticism from the Supreme Court.

Twelve Muslims were killed in a bakery in Baroda last year as Hindus sought revenge for the death of 59 pilgrims in an arson attack on a train.

The trial of the Hindus collapsed through lack of evidence after many of the prosecution witnesses withdrew their statements.

Last week the Supreme Court launched a scathing attack on the Gujarat administration's handling of the case, saying it should resign if it could not enforce the rule of law.

Gujarat's most senior bureaucrat, PK Lahiri, told the Supreme Court on Friday the state government would immediately seek a retrial.

Witness claims

The Supreme Court is also questioning Gujarat's director general of police and its top civil servant over their roles in the case.

Witnesses are suspected of being bought off to withdraw their evidence.

Gujarat religious riots
No one has yet been convicted over the Gujarat riots

The police chief, K Chakravorty, said he found out about the witness pay-offs only after the acquittal.

Gujarat was plunged into riots after the train carriage the Hindu pilgrims were travelling in was torched in Godhra in February last year.

More than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in reprisal attacks.

On 1 March last year, 12 Muslims were burned alive in the Best Bakery in Baroda.

After the trial of the Hindus collapsed in June this year, one of the witnesses, 19-year-old Zahira Sheikh, said she had lied in court and not testified because she had been threatened by senior figures in the local organisation of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party.

The BJP-led Gujarat government of Chief Minister Narendra Modi did launch an appeal against the acquittals.

However, the Supreme Court said the appeal was "eyewash".

"I have no faith left in the prosecution and the Gujarat Government," Chief Justice VN Khare said last week.

The court was hearing a petition from India's Human Rights Commission for a retrial.

Critics accuse Mr Modi's party of bias against minorities, a charge he denies.

However, no one has yet been convicted of offences relating to the riots.


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