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30 Killed in India in Attack on Hindus on Train - 2002-02-27

At least 30 people died when a mob attacked a train carrying Hindu activists in India's western state, Gujarat. Authorities say the death toll could rise, with at least 75 people believed on board the four coaches destroyed in the attack. India's prime minister has appealed for calm and authorities have imposed a curfew in the town where attack took place.

Local authorities in Gujarat say Hindu activists were shouting slogans when their train was attacked by a mob, which is believed to have been made up of Muslims. Four coaches were set on fire.

The incident occurred in Godhra, about 150 kilometers southeast of Gujarat's largest city, Ahmedabad, early Wednesday.

Authorities have placed a curfew on the town, and police have stepped up surveillance in other cities where there have been tensions between Hindu's and Muslims. About 30 percent of the population of Godhra is Muslim. The town has had sectarian clashes, in the past.

Hindu activists in Gujarat say they will stage a statewide strike, Thursday, to protest the attack. Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is appealing for calm and says an investigation is underway.

"The inquiry is being held, and we will ascertain the facts about what happened and why it happened," said the prime minister. "But from the preliminary reports, it appears that the train was stopped - maybe because slogans were being shouted in the train - and clashes took place."

Mr. Vajpayee said the state government in Gujarat has ordered an inquiry.

The Hindu activists on the train were returning from the northern Indian town, Ayodhya, where they had been participating in mass demonstrations called by Hindu hard-liners. They want to build a temple near the site of a 16th century mosque destroyed by Hindu activists in 1992. The activists say they will start building a temple by March 15, despite a court order forbidding any construction at the site.

In remarks Wednesday, Prime Minister Vajpayee appealed to the Hindu activists to suspend their activities in Ayodhya, saying they should obey India's courts and engage in dialogue. A statement from India's home minister warns the activists they are embarking on a course of action "fraught with danger" and that they will face action, if they defy the court order not to construct a temple at the site.