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Hindu Groups Call for Nationwide Strike to Protest Gujarat Temple Attack - 2002-09-26

In India, there has been a mixed response to a nationwide strike called by hardline Hindu groups to protest an attack Tuesday on a Hindu temple in Gujarat state that left 30 people dead. Authorities deployed heavy security in Gujarat to prevent an outbreak of religious violence during the strike. India has again accused Pakistan of possible involvement in the attack, a charge Pakistan denies.

Hundreds of soldiers patrolled the streets of Gujarat's most volatile city Ahmedabad. The police was also out in force as the strike shut down much of the state.

Despite the tight security, sporadic violence was reported, at least two Muslims were stabbed in separate incidents.

Just months ago, nearly a 1000 Muslims had died in bloody Hindu-Muslim riots that erupted in Gujarat.

Tuesday's attack by unidentified gunmen on the Akshardham temple has raised fears of a new round of sectarian violence in the state. At least 30 people were killed and dozens were wounded in the raid on the temple. The fear of a Hindu backlash kept many Muslim families at home, others took shelter in Muslim-dominated areas or in government camps.

The strike was observed sporadically in other places. Some towns, where Hindu hardliners have a strong presence shut down. Others including the capital, New Delhi, were mostly open.

In New Delhi, hundreds of protestors marched toward the Pakistan embassy, chanting anti-Pakistan slogans and calling for action against Islamabad, whom India accuses of sponsoring Islamic militant violence in the country. Police used water cannon to disperse the protestors. They included members of the Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads India's governing coalition. Similar protests were held in other cities.

Hindu hardline groups, the World Hindu Council and the Shiv Sena called the strike to denounce the raid on the temple. Both groups are allied to the Bharatiya Janata Party.

After a visit to Gujarat, Defense Minister George Fernandes said the raid on the temple was a "well-planned operation" by gunmen who appeared to have made a detailed study of the temple premises before the attack.

Indian officials again indirectly blamed Pakistan for the raid. Foreign Ministry spokesperson, Nirupama Rao, said there has been a "history of Pakistan's involvement in all such attacks." She said that is why India is suspicious of external involvement.

Earlier, on a visit to Malaysia, Foreign Minister Yashwant Sinha said the method and the weapons used by the attackers point to two Pakistan-based militant groups, the Lashkar-e-Taiba and the Hizbul Mujahideen. Pakistan has strongly denied any involvement.