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Vajpayee:  Communal Violence a 'Blot on the Nation'


Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee has appealed for an end to violence in India's Gujarat state, which has been swept by communal rioting in the past month. Hundreds of people have been killed in India's worst sectarian fighting in a decade.

On a visit to refugee camps in Ahmedabad city, Prime Minister Vajpayee strongly condemned the sectarian violence in which more than 800 people - mostly Muslims - have been killed.

His visit to Gujarat comes five weeks after 58 Hindu activists died in a fire started by a group of Muslims, sparking revenge attacks by Hindu mobs. The worst outbreak of violence occurred early last month - but sporadic clashes and killings are continuing. Hundreds of Muslims are sheltered in refugee camps.

An emotional Mr. Vajpayee said he could not comprehend how the two sides could continue killing each other.

Mr. Vajpayee said the "inhuman happenings" in Gujarat were a blot on the nation, and had made it difficult for him to face the international community.

The prime minister told Muslims his government would investigate the failure of the local administration in preventing the violence that has swept the state.

More violence was reported Thursday despite tight security. One person was killed when police opened fire to control clashes between Hindus and Muslims in Modasa, about 100 kilometers north of Ahmedabad. Several were injured.

Outside the camps Mr. Vajpayee visited, Muslim protesters raised slogans, demanding the resignation of the state's chief minister Narendra Modi. Opposition parties and Muslim groups have accused the state government of either encouraging or doing little to stop the Hindu rioters.

The National Human Rights Commission has also criticized the state government for what it called a "serious failure of intelligence and action."

The state government has also come under attack for not providing adequate relief and rehabilitation to Muslims.

The prime minister's day-long visit to the riot-hit region came amid mounting criticism of both the federal and state government for failing to stem the violence.

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