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Riots Kill 20 in Gujarat, India - 2002-02-28

Authorities in India's western Gujarat state say army troops have been called in to maintain order following riots that killed at least 20 people across the state.

The disturbances were sparked by the deaths of 58 people, mostly Hindu activists, who died on Wednesday in an attack on a train that is being blamed on Muslims. Authorities in Gujarat say they have arrested several hundred people following Thursday's disturbances and violence in the state appears to be winding down.

Army troops are enforcing a curfew in Gujarat's biggest city, Ahmedabad, after mobs of youths rioted earlier in the day - burning shops and stoning cars in mostly Muslim neighborhoods in the city. Elsewhere in the state, there were scattered attacks against Muslims by rioters.

The state's Home Minister K. Nityanandam has said the strike called by Hindu activists to protest the deaths of their colleagues is winding down and authorities consider the violence manageable.

"Today we had a tough day we have had many incidents but we take some satisfaction in the fact that the situation has not gone totally out of control," he said.

An investigation is under way to determine how those who died on Wednesday mostly Hindu activists were killed. Preliminary reports indicate the Hindu activists were attacked following a dispute with local people at the train station in the town of Godhra - where there have been tensions in the past between Hindu and Muslim residents.

The Hindu activists were returning from the northern city of Ayodhya where thousands of Hindu activists who belong to the have gathered in recent days holding mass demonstrations in support of building a Hindu temple near the site of a mosque destroyed by Hindu activists in 1992.

India's Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee has called on the activists to suspend their demonstrations but they have so far refused. Thousands of paramilitary troops have been mobilized to keep peace in the city. In 1992 the destruction of the Babri Masjid mosque in Ayodhya led to subsequent rioting and bombings across India that resulted in the deaths of more than 2,000 people.

Leaders of the Hindu nationalist World Hindu Council or VHP, the group organizing the Ayodhya demonstrations say they will call a nationwide strike for Friday to protest the deaths of the Hindus killed in Godhra on Wednesday.