Sectarian rioting kills 200 in India: Army deployed to retake mosque amid fears for future of secular democracy

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The Independent Online
THE INDIAN army was called out in Bombay and other cities yesterday after a day of rioting between Muslims and Hindus in which more than 200 people were killed and thousands injured. The sectarian violence flared after Hindu extremists demolished a mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya on Sunday and began putting up a temple on the site.

More than 40,000 soldiers and members of the security forces surrounded the city yesterday, and early today were reported to be moving towards the site of the mosque to dislodge the 200,000 or so Hindu militants still occupying it. They were expected to resist, urged on by ash-streaked holy men carrying tridents. Yesterday, in belligerent mood, the Hindu militants beat up journalists and burnt their cars.

Religious shockwaves from the mosque's destruction also spread to the neighbouring Islamic countries of Bangladesh and Pakistan, where mobs sought revenge by attacking Hindu temples and Indian embassy buildings and airline offices.

In Islamabad, the Pakistani authorities began a day-long protest against the Indian government's failure to protect Muslims' right to worship at the Ayodhya mosque.

As riots spread across India, the Prime Minister, Narasimha Rao, yesterday faced mounting calls for his resignation both from opposition parties and from dissidents within his Congress Party. He was criticised for failing to prevent the Babri mosque from being overrun on Sunday by 200,000 Hindu militants, who were led to Ayodhya by leaders of the right- wing Hindu Bharatiya Janata Party. Mr Rao survived an expected censure motion in parliament yesterday, because the uproar over Ayodhya among MPs was so frenzied that parliament had to be adjourned.

Some Congress and left-wing party officials described the mosque attack as one of the most serious challenges to India's secular democracy since independence 45 years ago. If left unchecked it could turn India into a Hindu fundamentalist nation in which the Muslim, Christian and Sikh minorities would suffer.

The worst-hit cities were Bombay, Jaipur, Bangalore, Bhopal and Calcutta. Rioting also erupted in the Muslim quarters of Old Delhi, despite appeals for calm by Muslim and Hindu leaders across the country.

Most of the deaths happened when police fired into crowds of rioters, many of them Muslims who went on a rampage after the demolition of the 400-year-old mosque. In Bombay, more than 40 people died when police opened fire on rioters. Soon after that incident the army was summoned to India's largest city to restore order.

Left-wing Indian parties called for a nationwide strike today, and yesterday Communists carried out a similar protest in West Bengal state.

A dusk-to-dawn curfew was imposed in parts of 10 Indian states and in Bhopal city. The army had orders to shoot on sight. To ease tensions, Mr Rao's government banned communal extremist groups, including those which had led the Ayodhya mosque attack and were suspected of sparking trouble in Muslim neighbourhoods.

Leaders of one Hindu militant group, the Vishwa Hindu Parishad, were reported to have gone into hiding to escape arrest. Officials also said that the government would punish those responsible for destroying the mosque, and would rebuild it. There is little left of the mosque to hand back to India's Muslims, the resolution Mr Rao would like. The building was smashed with sledgehammers and its ancient bricks carried away as trophies by Hindu youths.

Nearly all Indian police are Hindus, and in Ayodhya and the nearby town of Faizabad police stood by as a mob attacked and looted Muslim shops and a mosque.

Lal Krishna Advani, chief of the Bharatiya Janata Party, resigned as leader of the parliamentary opposition for reasons of 'moral responsibility' for his role in the storming of the mosque. Mr Advani's party, along with several smaller Hindu extremist groups, had led the march on Ayodhya.

Some Hindu scholars claim that the god Ram was born on the site where the mosque had stood.

The Foreign Office yesterday apppealed to the Hindu and Muslim communities in Britain to show restraint and 'avoid further provocations or reprisals' after an attack on a Hindu temple in Derby.

Kalim Siddiqui, leader of the self- styled Muslim Parliament in Britain, said he was 'devastated' by the Derby attack. 'We are all common citizens in this country. We have everything in common and we must not fight over issues in the sub-continent,' he said.

Appeals for calm, page 9

Hindus' revenge, page 9

Leading article, letters, page 18

Cricket tour in doubt, page 30