Sat, Mar 02, 2002 - Page 1 News List

Indian army to quell religious riots; 265 dead

SPIRALLING VIOLENCE Continued fighting between Hindus and Muslims has left 265 dead, while police have been ordered to shoot rioters


Troops arrived in India's riot-torn western state of Gujarat yesterday to crush religious violence that has killed 265 people in two days, the worst communal bloodshed in a decade.

"The situation should get under control now," Gujarat Home Secretary Ashok Narayan said. Ahmedabad police chief PC Pande said soldiers would fan out across affected areas shortly.

The state's main city, Ahmedabad, and the eye of the violence, the town of Godhra, were relatively quiet early yesterday. On Fridays, large crowds traditionally gather at mosques for midday prayers.

But police said they killed five people when they fired on an unruly mob in the Bapunagar district of Ahmedabad yesterday evening.

Debris littered Ahmedabad's streets and fires smoldered.

Home Department secretary K. Nityanandam said 133 people died in Thursday's rioting.

Police said there was sporadic trouble overnight. They have shoot-on-sight orders in some areas, curfews have been imposed and dozens of people rounded up, but some witnesses have accused police of doing nothing to prevent the violence.

The rioting erupted after a suspected Muslim mob torched a train carrying Hindu devotees in Godhra on Wednesday, burning alive 58 people, mostly women and children.

Survivors of the rioting said pleas for help were ignored.

"We were defenseless yesterday. It was not our government, it was not our police," Haroon Jawahir, who lives in the US, said on Friday.

"From 12 to eight, there was mayhem here. We kept on calling the police, the fire brigade. The police came, and they told us `you stay inside.'"

In the worst attack on Thursday, 300 Hindus set fire to huts where Muslims were sleeping, police said. After 27 bodies were pulled from the ashes, another 38 people died in the hospital, leaving four with serious burn injuries.

The hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) called for a strike in parts of India yesterday in protest against the train killings. Demonstrators disrupted transport in India's commercial hub, Bombay, where mobs stoned stoned buses, injuring several people.

The victims in the train inferno were returning from a VHP religious vigil in the northern town of Ayodhya in support of plans by the hardline Hindu group to build a temple on a disputed site holy to both Hindus and Muslims.

In 1992, Hindus razed a 16th-century mosque there, triggering nationwide riots that killed about 3,000 people in the worst religious violence since the Indian subcontinent was partitioned in 1947.

The VHP on Friday offered to delay its plan to build a controversial temple in a bid to help end the bloodiest religious violence in a decade, the Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency reported.

The group said it would put off the move to start building the temple if the government allowed it to erect two holy pillars destined for the temple on nearby land for devotees to worship, PTI reported.

Through Thursday, mobs defying a curfew stabbed or burned to death Muslims and looted stores, set fires and blocked roads with flaming tires in Ahmedabad.

The state legislature adjourned until Monday because of the violence.

Late into the night, Ahmedabad's skyline was streaked by flames as roaming mobs, vastly outnumbering police, set alight property belonging to Muslims. Gunshots could also be heard.

"Property worth billions of rupees owned by Muslims has been destroyed and the police watched without taking any action," former upper house lawmaker Ershad Mirza said.

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