Mon, Mar 21, 2005 - Page 5 News List

Hindu nationalists torch Pepsi warehouse in protest


Hindu nationalists torched a PepsiCo warehouse and picketed US government offices in western India on Saturday to protest the cancellation of a US visa for the elected head of Gujarat state.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged Washington to urgently reconsider its decision.

Nearly 150 activists from the Bajrang Dal party barged into the American soft drink manufacturer's warehouse in Surat city in Gujarat, smashed bottles and set fire to parts of the building, said Dharmesh Joshi, a witness.

They also ransacked a nearby PepsiCo office, he said.

The protesters carried placards reading: ``Down with the US,'' and ``Boycott US goods and the Americans.''

The State Department had no immediate comment, spokesman Noel Clay said Saturday.

Surat police chief V.K. Gupta confirmed the attack happened, saying that about a dozen workers fled the warehouse when the attack occurred and that firefighters rushed to the scene and doused the flames.

PepsiCo representatives could not be immediately reached for comment.

On Friday, the US government revoked Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi's visa, citing his role in 2002 religious riots in the state.

The US State Department said Friday it had denied a diplomatic visa to Modi and revoked his existing tourist/business visa under the US Immigration and Nationality Act that bars people responsible for violations of religious freedom from getting a visa.

Spokesman Adam Ereli said the US was responding to a finding by India's National Human Rights Commission that held Modi's government responsible for the 2002 Hindu-Muslim violence in the state, India's worst in a decade.

About 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed in the violence.

Several political parties and other rights groups also accused Modi of doing little to stop the violence.

On Saturday, Singh said Washington knew of India's concerns.

``We have also called for the urgent reconsideration of the decision by the US government,'' Singh said in a statement to Parliament, adding that the decision showed a lack of sensitivity and due courtesy.

Modi called the decision an insult to India.

Expecting a violent response to the visa ban, authorities had tightened security across western India where the Hindu nationalists have a strong presence.

Bajrang Dal is an affiliate of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party that governs Gujarat and to which Modi belongs.

Separately, a further 150 Bajrang Dal activists also tried to enter a US Visa Application Center in Ahmadabad, the main Gujarat city, but they were turned back by police.

The protesters dispersed after shouting their condemnation of the visa revocation.

Police arrested more than 100 Bharatiya Janata Party protesters who tried to break through riot barriers outside the US consulate in the western city of Bombay. They were later freed, a police officer said on condition of anonymity.

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