- The Washington Times - Friday, March 1, 2002

AHMEDABAD, India A Hindu crowd set fire to a block of Muslim homes yesterday, killing at least 38 persons, including a dozen children, amid riots across the Indian state of Gujarat sparked by a Muslim attack on a train full of Hindu nationalists.

The violence yesterday left at least 58 dead in the western state. The army was called out to help restore order in Ahmedabad, the commercial center, where outnumbered police firing tear gas and rifles were unable to stop Hindus from burning and looting shops and hotels.

Narendra Modi, the state's chief minister, said the army might be deployed in about 26 other towns where curfews were declared.

At least 50 buildings, most of them Muslim-owned, were torched in Ahmedabad, sending smoke billowing over the skyline. Roaming groups of Hindus went through neighborhoods, chanting, "Hail, Rama," in honor of one of their chief gods.

The rioting erupted after Muslims in Godhra, a town southeast of Ahmedabad, attacked a train full of Hindu nationalists Wednesday, killing 58 persons.

Muslim tea vendors and their neighbors stoned the train, then set it on fire when Hindus, chanting nationalist slogans, refused to pay for snacks during a five-minute halt, station chief J.K. Katija said. Fourteen children were among the dead. The Hindus were returning from the site of a mosque torn down in 1992, where they want to build a Hindu temple.

The national government pleaded for restraint, fearful that sectarian violence could spread quickly in this nation of more than 1 billion.

The single most deadly incident reported in yesterday's riots came when a crowd of about 2,000 people stoned six Muslim-owned bungalows in a mostly Hindu neighborhood of Ahmedabad. The crowd then poured kerosene on the homes and set them ablaze, said P.B. Gondya, the deputy commissioner of police.

"We have taken out 18 bodies," M.K. Tandon, one of Ahmedabad's two police commissioners, told the Associated Press. Police saw the bodies of eight to 10 adults and 12 children still lying inside the smoldering remains of the homes in the Meghaninagar neighborhood, he said.

Because of rioters' blockades set up in the streets, it took police two hours and firefighters six hours to reach the scene in Meghaninagar after they were called by Ehsan Jefri, a former Parliament member who lived in one of the burning homes.

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