Indian rioters burn family of six to death

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The Independent Online

Rioters in southern India killed six members of a Muslim family by setting fire to their home after earlier clashes between Hindus and Muslims left four others dead and 15 injured in the same village, officials said today.

Tensions have been high in Vatoli village since Friday when violence and looting erupted between the two sides, leading to four deaths, said Andhra Pradesh state Home Minister K. Jana Reddy.

Authorities imposed a curfew on Friday, but were unable to stop the deadly arson attack, which apparently occurred before dawn today, Mr Reddy said.

"It is a beastly and barbaric act," Mr Reddy said. "Police are investigating the case and we will catch the culprits."

Three children, including a 2-year-old, were among the six burned to death, he said.

Vatoli is in Adilabad district, 170 miles north of the state capital of Hyderabad.

Muslim leaders called for better protection for minorities, especially in rural areas.

"Despite our repeated pleas and appeals, the government has failed to provide protection to the Muslims who live in remote areas and who have a very small population in those places," said Asaduddin Owaisi, a member of the lower house of the national Parliament.

Relations between Hindus and Muslims have been largely peaceful since the bloody partition of the subcontinent into India and Pakistan on independence from Britain in 1947. But mistrust runs deep and there are sporadic bouts of violence.

The worst violence in recent years was in 2002 in the western state of Gujarat. More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed by Hindu mobs after a train fire killed 60 Hindus returning from a pilgrimage. Muslims were blamed for the fire.

A series of blasts have hit India in recent months, and authorities have blamed Muslim militants in nearly all the attacks.

India's Muslims, who account for about 14% of the country's population of 1.1 billion, lag far behind the Hindu majority in most social indicators, from literacy to household incomes.