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Gujarat Calm After Sectarian Violence Kills 300 - 2002-03-02

Authorities in India's western Gujarat state say they believe at least 300 people have died in the worst sectarian violence to strike India in nearly a decade. About 30 Muslims were burned to death in a remote village in Gujarat late Friday. The deployment of Indian army troops in the state's largest cities and towns has helped to restore order in many parts of the state.

Authorities say Gujarat's cities and towns are largely calm but tense on Saturday but violence continues in remote villages where central authority has yet to be restored.

Residents of Ahmedabad, the states largest city, shopped for food and some stores reopened for business. Authorities say the city is still tense and violence could return at any time.

India's army has taken up positions in the state where Hindus and Muslims have been fighting for the past two days, ever since about 58 people, mostly Hindu activists, were burned to death when their train was set on fire by Muslims in the town of Godhra.

The activists were returning from the northern city of Ayodhya, where they were participating in demonstrations to build a Hindu temple near the site of a mosque destroyed by Hindu activists 10 years ago. Muslims strongly oppose construction of the Hindu temple.

More than 1,000 people have been arrested for participating in the Gujarat violence and a curfew remains in effect across much of the state.

The government of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is being criticized for what opposition lawmakers say is an inadequate response to the violence in Gujarat. Opposition lawmakers say the state's chief minister, who belongs to Mr. Vajpayee's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, should be replaced because police under his leadership, stood by and allowed the violence to spiral out of control. State officials say they did all they could to control the violence.

Meanwhile, leaders of the Hindu nationalist World Hindu Council or VHP, who are at the center of the temple construction controversy, say they are willing to put their plans to begin construction of a Hindu temple in Ayodhya on hold if India's government gives assurances that it will allow the temple to be built at a future date.

There are widespread fears in India that sectarian violence of the sort seen in Gujarat over the past several days could erupt across the country if the VHP activists begin building their controversial temple.