- The Washington Times - Sunday, March 3, 2002

AHMEDABAD, India Mob burnings, shootings and other violence between Hindus and Muslims spread through villages in India's Gujarat state yesterday, even as soldiers enforced a fearful peace in larger cities.
The death toll in the country's worst religious strife in a decade stood at 415 after police said Hindus stormed the village of Sardarpura and set houses and shops ablaze by lighting fires near cooking gas containers. Twenty-seven Muslims died, police officials said on the condition of anonymity.
In the town of Baroda, at least seven Muslims were burned to death inside the bakery where they worked. In Himmatnagar, police fired on Hindu and Muslim groups fighting each other with guns and knives, resulting in 11 deaths, police said.
"The violence is spreading from village to village. If nothing is done to stop it, God knows what will happen to thousands and thousands of people," said Asad Madhani, president of the Jamiat-ul Ulema-e-Hind, an association of Muslim clerics.
Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee appealed for peace and restraint in a television address yesterday. It was the second appeal in four days from Mr. Vajpayee, who rarely makes such appearances.
President Pervez Musharraf of Pakistan, India's longtime rival and a Muslim-majority country, called for better protection of India's Muslim minority. "The carnage must be brought to an end," he said in a written statement.
In Ahmedabad, the state's commercial capital and the worst-hit city, Muslims and Hindus warily wandered their neighborhoods to survey the damage. Charred bodies lay in the streets along with burned furniture and vehicles.
Residents in this city of 3.5 million people blamed the violence which continued in Ahmedabad's industrial areas, slums and suburbs on extremist groups, and said they were stunned by how things had gotten out of hand.
The violence is the worst in India since 1992-93, when 3,000 people were killed during Hindu-Muslim riots in Bombay and elsewhere in the country. Outside Gujarat state, the country remained relatively calm.
Soldiers fanned out in the cities of Ahmedabad, Baroda and Rajkot with orders to shoot rioters on sight.
Government officials insisted the situation was under control, even though district police officers told the Associated Press of widespread burnings, stabbings and shootings in outlying towns.
The officers said they had been ordered not to talk to reporters. Independent television news stations, including CNN, were blacked out in the state after Chief Minister Narendra Modi accused them of showing gory and provocative pictures.
State government officials, speaking on the condition of anonymity, said the death toll in four days of carnage was 415. The state police control room put the toll at 383, but the government has a history of underreporting death tolls in calamities.
The bloodshed began Wednesday when Muslims burned a train carrying Hindus returning from the northern town of Ayodhya, where a temple is planned on the site of a 16th-century mosque that was razed by Hindus in 1992. The temple plans have long been a cause of Hindu-Muslim tension.
Among the dead were 47 persons killed by police since Friday in Gujarat, Mr. Modi said. Two policemen were also killed.
A curfew was imposed in 37 towns across the state. Home Secretary K. Nityanandam said 1,587 persons had been arrested including 63 charged with murder in the train attack.
The violence came as Gujarat state was still recovering from a devastating earthquake last year.
Gujarat is the home state of Mohandas K. Gandhi, India's beloved independence leader who struggled for reconciliation between India's Hindu majority and Muslims amid riots that killed nearly 1 million people after independence in 1947. About 12 percent of India's 1 billion people are Muslims; Hindus comprise 87 percent.

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