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India Moves to Control Gujarat Violence - 2002-03-01


India's army moved to reassert control of the state of Gujarat on Friday but violence continued and authorities say more than 150 people have died in sectarian violence. Authorities say they believe at least 200 people have died and they have arrested more than 1,000 people and have issued shoot-on-sight orders to police to control the violence.

Army troops took up positions in Gujarat's largest city Ahmedabad on Friday and troops are reportedly being deployed in other cities in Gujarat where violence continued on Friday.

In Ahmedabad Hindu mobs rampaged through the city early Friday, setting fire to a Muslim shantytown on the outskirts of the city, killing about 30 residents. A Muslim family of eight was also killed when the jeep they were traveling in was stopped and set on fire by a mob. Elsewhere there were pitched battles between gangs of Hindus and Muslims.

Much of the violence took place in Ahmedabad's old city where Hindus and Muslims have lived side-by-side for hundreds of years. Authorities say army troops will be deployed to areas where Hindus and Muslims live close to each other to keep the two communities apart. India's defense minister, George Fernandes toured parts of the state on Friday calling for an end to the violence. "Violence should not be resorted to. If there is a curfew everybody should stay indoors and create a situation of peace so that normal life can be resumed in the city. We cannot go back into the past and reclaim what has been lost and everyone has to cooperate in this effort," Mr. Fernandes said.

In New Delhi, parliament adjourned briefly after lawmakers traded charges about who was responsible for letting the violence in Gujarat get out of control. Opposition lawmakers have called for the state's Chief Minister, a member of India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, to resign, saying he allowed violence to spiral out of control, a charge India's ruling party denies.

Meanwhile, elsewhere in India, many people heeded a call for a nationwide strike made by the Hindu nationalist World Hindu Council, or VHP. In India's commercial capital, Bombay, also known as Mumbai, a stronghold of Hindu nationalist strength, isolated stone throwing incidents were reported and some rail service was disrupted as Hindu nationalists sought to enforce the strike.