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500 Dead in Gujarat Rioting


In India's western state of Gujarat authorities say nearly 500 people have died in sectarian violence that gripped the state in recent days. Most areas of the state are now quiet, but tensions between Hindus and Muslims remain high.

The rioting in Gujarat has mostly died down, and police officials say only sporadic incidents of violence have been reported. But authorities are taking no chances, and troops are being sent to villages and outlying areas where the most recent looting and arson has taken place.

The rioting began when Muslims torched a train carrying Hindu activists, killing 58 people. The attack triggered revenge attacks by Hindu mobs on Muslims, many of whom were burned to death. Many Muslims say the police did nothing to protect their community.

On Sunday Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani visited Ahmedabad, Gujarat's largest city and the scene of the worst violence. He also visited Godra, the small town where the train was attacked. Mr. Advani says he has come to see what the government can do to restore peace and harmony in the state.

Fear and insecurity are high, and the two communities are viewing each other with suspicion. In Ahmedabad, residents have set up self-defense groups to guard neighborhoods. Officials have also warned domestic news channels not to telecast programs that may disturb communal harmony. A curfew still remains in effect across most towns and cities of Gujarat, and shops and businesses remain shut. But residents have been allowed to come out for a few hours to buy food and essential items.

Meanwhile the government is being strongly criticized for not sending in the army sooner to bring the violence under control. Senior leader of the opposition Congress party, Kamal Nath voiced that criticism after a visit to Gujarat. "So first I charge that there was late deployment of the army," he said. "The army was kept on standby and then when there was a deployment, the deployment was a mis-deployment without making a proper assessment of where the real need was."

With calm slowly returning to Gujarat, attention is now turning to a Hindu nationalist group whose controversial plans to build a temple on the ruins of a mosque starting March 15 sparked the sectarian violence. The government wants the group to defer its temple construction program. Leaders of the Hindu nationalist group are expected to meet Monday to discuss the possibility of postponing their plan.

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