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2002: Hindus die in train fire
Fifty-seven Hindu pilgrims have died in a fire on a train in India.

The fire happened as the Sabarmati Express, bound for Ahmedabad, was pulling out of Godhra station in the western state of Gujarat at approximately 0630 today.

The train was returning hundreds of Hindu activists from a pilgrimage to the disputed holy site of Ayodhya in the northern Indian state of Uttar P, which is claimed by both Muslims and Hindus.

A gang of Muslims are suspected of causing the fire and India's prime minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee has appealed for calm amid fears of renewed religious tension in the country.

'Sad and unfortunate'

The dispute over Ayodhya has been ongoing for several years.

In 1992 the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, organised a demonstration which resulted in the destruction of a 500-year-old Moghul mosque at Ayodhya.

The Hindus believe the mosque occupied the same spot where their god Ram was born.

The destruction of the mosque sparked the most widespread rioting India has seen since partition, and resulted in the deaths of more than 3,000 people.

More than 14,000 Hindus have gathered at Ayodhya in recent weeks to plan the construction of a temple. They have set a deadline of 15 March for work to begin.

According to the head of police in Godhra, Raju Bhargava, it appears this morning's train fire was started by a gang of Muslims who were angered by pro-Hindu chanting on the train.

Initial evidence suggests kerosene was poured into four of the carriages before they were set alight.

Local resident Rakesh Kimani, 18, witnessed the event: "I heard screams for help as I came out of my house.

"I saw a huge ball of fire... people putting out their hands and heads through the windows, trying to escape.

"It was a horrible sight."

Schools and shops have been shut in Godhra and a curfew has been imposed. Police in the town have been ordered to shoot troublemakers on sight.

Prime Minister Vajpayee, whose Hindu nationalist party Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), allied to the VHP, came to power in the mid-1990s in a landslide victory, said: "This is a very sad and unfortunate incident.

"The Ayodhya dispute can be solved only by dialogue between Hindus and Muslims or resolved by the court. It cannot be resolved through violent means or agitation.

"I would appeal to the VHP to suspend their campaign and help government in maintaining peace and brotherhood in the country."

But the VHP has called for a state-wide strike to protest against the attack and the more militant members have vowed to continue with the temple's construction.

There have been scattered reports of clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat after news of the train attack spread.

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Riots in Gujarat
The day after the train attack rioting broke out across the state of Gujarat

In Context
The incident sparked days of rioting in Gujarat state in which at least 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, died.

Vehicles and debris were set on fire in the streets of Gujarat's capital, Ahmadabad and rioting by Hindus was reported in several other cities in Gujarat state.

The final death toll in the train fire was 59.

In January 2005 an interim inquiry into the fire, led by Supreme Court judge Umesh Chandra Banerjee, found it had not been started by Muslims at all but had started accidentally.

The Hindu Nationalist opposition party the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) called the report "politically motivated".

Another inquiry, by the Justice Nanavati Commission is looking at the Gujarat riots and will have the power to recommend legal action.

A number of Muslims were arrested after the riots and are still being held on charges related to the trouble, but no trial has taken place.

The conflict over Ayodhya is ongoing with Muslims and Hindus campaigning for a mosque and a temple to be built on the site.

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