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Police Criticized For Slow Response To Indian Violence - 2002-02-28

Authorities in western India's Gujarat state say at least 58 people have died in violent sectarian clashes. Violence is continuing in the state and the death toll is expected to rise. In one incident 38 people died when a Hindu mob attacked the homes of several Muslim families.

Police say they were unable to respond to telephone calls for help from Muslim families trapped in several bungalows in a Hindu neighborhood of Ahmedabad, the state's largest city, because roads were blocked by Hindu party activists.

By the time police responded, all of the Muslims, including at least a dozen children, were dead. There is growing criticism of state and police authorities for not controlling mob violence in Gujarat.

In an interview with the Star News Channel, Ahmedabad police chief P.C. Pandey admitted some of his officers probably sympathized with Hindus attacking Muslim residents of the city.

"I can only say this; that the police is not insulated from the general social milieu - the police is part of it and there is bound to be some kind of you can say contagion effect," Ms. Pandey said.

Army patrols will begin Friday. But violence is continuing in the state, despite a curfew in most major cities and towns.

Violence erupted after Hindu party activists called a strike to protest the deaths of 58 people, mostly other Hindu party activists, who died Wednesday in an attack on a train that is being blamed on Muslims.

Leaders of the Hindu nationalist World Hindu Council have called a nationwide strike for Friday, raising concerns of widespread sectarian violence elsewhere in India.