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Last Updated: Friday, 8 August, 2003, 09:58 GMT 10:58 UK
Court asks for Gujarat riot papers
Muslim woman weeps near scorched
Hindus torched Muslim homes and businesses
India's Supreme Court has asked for the records of a controversial riot case in the western state of Gujarat.

It follows the acquittal in a lower court of 21 Hindu defendants accused of killing 12 Muslims during riots last year.

India's National Human Rights Commission (NHRC) recently asked for a retrial of the case, in which more than 30 prosecution witnesses retracted their statements.

The Supreme Court also ordered the Gujarat Government to protect all the witnesses and victims of the case.

The state government has three weeks to hand over the legal records to the Supreme Court.

The defendants were accused of ransacking a bakery in Baroda in Ahmedabad, Gujarat state's largest city, killing men, women and children.

The main prosecution witness, Zahira Sheikh, 19, told journalists and the NHRC that she had changed her evidence following death threats.

Gujarat religious riots
The riots left between 1,000 and 2,000 dead - mostly Muslims
In Gujarat, members of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party staged sit-in protests on Friday to register their protest against the NHRC stand in the case.

On Thursday the Gujarat Government appealed against the acquittal of the defendants in the Gujarat High Court.

It argued that the trial court did not notice that the police had ignored Zahira Sheikh's statement in which she named members of the mob that attacked the bakery.

Arun Oza, filing the appeal for the government, said it lists 17 incidences of the court failing to address certain legal issues and says it did not consider all the evidence on record.

Train attack

Correspondents say the Gujarat Government appears to be trying to distance itself from allegations of complicity in the sectarian riots in which at least 1,000 people, mainly Muslims, were killed.

The Gujarat Law Minister, Ashok Bhatt, said his government had filed an appeal to show its faith in the judicial system.

He denied that the decision had been influenced by the NHRC's decision to appeal before the Supreme Court. He refused to comment on the NHRC's role in the matter.

The violence started after a mob killed nearly 60 people on a train carrying Hindu activists.

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