Fury at UK entry for Gujarat leader accused of atrocities

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The Independent Online

The Chief Minister of the Indian state of Gujarat, who is accused of crimes against humanity, arrives in Britain today where he will be greeted by a storm of protest and an attempt to have him arrested.

Human rights groups are angered that Narendra Modi, who was refused a visa for the US last week for his alleged complicity in the massacre of thousands of Muslims in Gujarat in 2002, is being allowed entry to the UK. There are even fears of a Pinochet-style arrest with the solicitor Imran Khan believed to be working on an arrest warrant.

Mr Khan, who represented the family of the murdered British teenager Stephen Lawrence, is acting on behalf of the families of three Britons who were murdered in the frenzy of violence three years ago. Three British Muslims from Yorkshire, brothers Saeed Dawood and Shakil Dawood and Mohammed Aswat Nallabhai, were caught by the rioting mobs and killed.

The UK has a large ethnic Gujarati population and Mr Modi is coming to Britain to attend tomorrow's Gujarat Day celebrations at the Albert Hall. But his three-day visit has been completely overshadowed by the controversy over his government's alleged role in the massacres. Mr Modi's last visit to Britain in 2003 was dogged by similar controversy - and the human rights lawyers failed to get him arrested then.

But Washington's recent refusal to grant him a visa has increased pressure on the British Government. Brad Adams, of Human Rights Watch, said: "This guy [Mr Modi] has at least political responsibility. He may have had a direct role in what happened in Gujarat. He has certainly obstructed the investigation of the killings every step of the way."

The 2002 religious massacres were set off by a train fire in which 59 Hindu extremist pilgrims were killed. It is widely believed that the fire was started deliberately by Muslims, who were incensed after the pilgrims had abused a Muslim shopkeeper at a railway station, and, according to some, sexually harassed a Muslim woman.

In the carnage that followed, more than 2,000 people were killed, the vast majority of them Muslims. People were burnt alive or hacked to death with swords. Many Muslim women were raped before they were killed, and witnesses described seeing unborn babies torn out of pregnant mothers' wombs.

India's Supreme Court last year issued a condemnation of the Gujarat state government, led by Mr Modi, for doing nothing to stop the killing of Muslims, calling Mr Modi and his colleagues "modern-day Neros [who] were looking elsewhere when... innocent children and helpless women were burning".

Human rights groups have accused Mr Modi of inciting attacks by immediately claiming he saw the hand of Pakistani intelligence behind the train fire, without any evidence. Mr Modi's government has also been widely accused of pressuring the courts in Gujarat to let those involved in the massacres off.

The Government says Mr Modi is free to visit Britain because the visa he was issued in 2003 is still valid. Mohammed Munaf Zeena, chairman of the UK Indian Muslim Council, warned that the Foreign Secretary, Jack Straw, whose constituency has a large Muslim population, would suffer electorally from the decision.