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Police Fire on Hindu Demonstrators - 2002-03-04


Police fired on Hindu demonstrators Monday in a remote village in India's western Gujarat State. Two people were killed in the clash, bringing to more than 550 the number of people killed since India's worst sectarian violence in more than a decade began last week. Police and army troops have restored order in many parts of the state, but clashes between Hindus and Muslims are reported continuing in remote areas of Gujarat, where central authority is weak.

Hindu villagers in Danta, in northern Gujarat, were trying to burn down some of their Muslim neighbors homes when police fired on the mob. Violent incidents like the one in Danta early Monday are being brought under control, but violence continues in areas where police and army troops have yet to reach.

Gujarat's main cities are calm-but-tense. Many businesses have reopened, but schools remain closed and many people are staying home. A curfew remains in effect in many areas.

Police in Surat,- the center of Gujarat's thriving diamond trade, have fired on demonstrators defying the curfew. Surat Police Commissioner VK Gupta told reporters his force is focusing on rounding up individuals organizing the violence. "The idea is that mischief mongers should be isolated. They should not be allowed to freely move. At the same time, it is necessary to see that no innocent person is injured or attacked because, if people start moving around freely, then under this charged atmosphere anything can happen," Mr. Gupta said.

Clashes are continuing in remote parts of Gujarat yet to be reached by police and army troops. The death toll continues to rise, as isolated attacks take place and as more bodies are recovered from neighborhoods and villages that were attacked.

Most of the victims have been Muslims, who are a minority in the state. Thousands of Muslims have taken refuge in mosques and hospitals and have refused to return to the their homes until their safety can be guaranteed.

The rioting began after 58 people, mostly Hindu activists, were burned to death last Wednesday as they were traveling home from a religious vigil in the northern town, Ayodhya. Hindus want to build a temple in the town, next to the site of a mosque that was destroyed by Hindu activists in December 1992.

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