Provincial Gujarat gripped by sectarian violence

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The Independent Online

Hindu mobs attacked Muslim homes and shops yesterday in a remote town in Gujarat, where two weeks of sectarian violence have claimed more than 700 lives.

Hindu mobs attacked Muslim homes and shops yesterday in a remote town in Gujarat, where two weeks of sectarian violence have claimed more than 700 lives.

Police said that gangs of Hindus, mostly young men armed with iron rods and lead pipes, attacked Muslim neighbourhoods in Kanwant, 125 miles south of Ahmedabad, Gujarat's commercial capital. They set ablaze and vandalised houses and shops, and smashed glass panes.

Police officers used tear gas and fired shots in the air to disperse the troublemakers but were badly outnumbered and could not prevent crowds regrouping, the town's deputy superintendent said.

The incidents followed on from Monday's attacks on Muslim houses and shops in and Rajpipla, two other towns in south Gujarat, as violence continued to spread across the western Indian state.

The rioting in Gujarat began on 27 February when Muslims killed 58 Hindu activists by setting on fire a train returning from the city of Ayodhya, the city in northern India where Hindus want to build a temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque they tore down in 1992.

Most of Kanwant's Muslims had fled the town or sought shelter at the town's central police station. Police had also evacuated more than 400 families to safer areas. A curfew had also been imposed.

Groups of people had gathered outside the town early yesterday and attacked once numbers had swollen. A shopkeeper, Abdul Kadir, said: "We did not have any option but to escape with our lives."

By evening, smoke was seen rising from different parts of Kanwant, as houses belonging to Muslims were reduced to ashes. One resident, Shabbir Abbas Vohra, said: "Kanwant is our home for 80 years now. Never, ever, have we seen such animosity. This town has never been affected by riots in the last five decades."

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