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Fury over Gujarat leader speech

6 December 07 10:06 GMT

A number of political parties in India have protested against alleged remarks made by a politician during an election meeting in western Gujarat state.

Gujarat chief minister Narendra Modi's alleged comments were over a man killed by the police in the state in 2005.

In April, three top policemen were charged with the murder of Sohrabuddin Sheikh, a Muslim civilian.

They are alleged to have attempted to cover up the killing by claiming he belonged to an Islamic militant group.

Mr Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) government then admitted that the missing wife of Mr Sheikh, Kausar Bi, was also killed and her body was burnt.

Indian media has been reporting that Mr Modi during a election meeting in the state on Tuesday appeared to have "justified" the killing of the couple.

'Nothing wrong'

A BJP spokesman VK Malhotra has denied this, telling The Hindu newspaper that Mr Modi had only said that "if a terrorist is killed in an encounter [with the police] there was nothing wrong".

India's Election Commission has sought a report from local authorities on what Mr Modi exactly said at the meeting to determine whether he violated the poll code of conduct.

Gujarat goes to elections next week.

The Congress party has condemned Mr Modi's alleged remarks.

"The chief minister has virtually owed up to a murder and he has declared that he has a licence to kill," party spokesman Abhishek Singhvi has said.

Communist Party of India (Marxist) leader Sitaram Yechury has been quoted saying that Mr Modi's remarks were "shameful".

Gujarat government lawyer KTS Tulsi has said Mr Modi "will have to apologise for his remarks".

Mr Sheikh and his wife had been travelling by bus when they were taken away by the Gujarat police in November 2005.

At the time, police claimed Mr Sheikh belonged to the banned Kashmiri militant group, Lashkar-e-Toiba, and was plotting to assassinate Mr Modi.

Gujarat has been heavily criticised for the treatment of its religious minorities.

According to official figures, more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed during the riots that broke out after nearly 60 Hindus were killed when a train was set on fire in Godhra town, allegedly by a Muslim mob, five years ago.

The state administration was accused of not doing enough to stop the riots.

Security forces in India have on occasion admitted to extra-judicial killings - described by the local media as "fake encounters" - in which they had at first said they had killed militants after coming under gunfire.

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