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Hindu-Muslim clashes push death toll in western India to 544

Updated:
(AHMADABAD, India) - Police fired at a mob trying to set fire to Muslim buildings early Monday, killing two people in the latest Hindu-Muslim violence in the western Gujarat state, where 544 people have died in six days.

Six other people reportedly were killed overnight in other towns, but no details were available. Schools remained closed and curfews were imposed in many towns.

Some Muslims were too frightened to leave their homes for food or to return to those they fled, even in Ahmadabad, where soldiers enforced a tense peace in the state's largest city with 3.5 million people. Most of the bloodshed occurred there.

Traffic jams reappeared on Ahmadabad's shady streets Monday as gutted trucks and debris from burned-out shops were pushed aside. Hindus and Muslims gathered separately on street corners to survey the damage, and many shops were open.

In Danta town in northern Gujarat, police shot at about 100 people trying to torch Muslim homes early Monday, killing two rioters, a police officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

He said four people were killed in Halad and two in Vijaynagar overnight, but no further details were available.

The death toll in India's worst religious rioting in a decade includes 84 people killed by police, he said.

In Surat city, known for its diamond trade, police fired at mobs in the Limbayat neighborhood Monday, but there were no reports of casualties.

Also, authorities in the southern city of Bangalore, India's technology hub, banned public rallies to prevent rioting. The ban follows Sunday's arrests of 25 Hindus for stoning shops to force them to shut in protest against Muslims.

Violence has gripped Gujarat since last Wednesday, when Muslims set fire to a train carrying Hindu nationalists. The 58 deaths provoked a retaliatory rampage by Hindus. Most of those killed since then have been Muslims.

In Ram-Rahim Nagar, a teeming slum where impoverished Hindus and Muslims have coexisted since 1964, residents said Monday no one was killed there.

``The Hindus and Muslims here are so poor, living hand-to-mouth, that we can't afford to attack one another,'' Natwar Lal Bhikabhai, a Hindu member of the community association board, which has an equal number of Hindus and Muslims to mediate disputes.

Home Minister L.K. Advani visited riot areas on Sunday and condemned the bloodshed as ``a black spot'' on India.

Gujarat, governed by the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, has been accused of siding with Hindu mobs and delaying police and army deployments. Advani belongs to the BJP, the core party in India's national coalition government.

In New Delhi on Monday, leaders of 22 Islamic groups demanded that the government put the army in charge of Gujarat. The groups accused the state's Hindu nationalist government of failing to protect minority Muslims.

The violence spread beyond Gujarat on Friday when Hindu fundamentalists called a national strike, attacked mosques, blocked trains and forced businesses in several cities to close. Muslim crowds rioted in the southern city of Hyderabad and fought with Hindus in Aligarh.

A Hindu policeman was stabbed to death Sunday while followers of both faiths threw stones at each other in Aligarh, in Uttar Pradesh state.

On Saturday, two people died in clashes in the city, which has a history of Hindu-Muslim conflict. Some 2,000 paramilitary troops enforced a curfew on Monday.

In the Gujarat town of Deodhar, four Muslims were burned alive Sunday and police shot to death two Hindu attackers. Rioting and looting occurred in several villages and mobs set fire to shops and trucks on a highway.

Many Muslims sent frantic text messages on their mobile phones to friends and relatives.

``Need milk and vegetables. Have nothing for children to eat,'' read a message sent by Kamaluddin Lakhani, hiding in his apartment in a Muslim section Ahmadabad, to his friend, Ghulam Mohammad.

But Mohammad said he had no money and no gasoline, and was running out of food himself.

The state police said Monday they had made 2,852 arrests, including 27 in connection with Wednesday's train fire.

The origins of the violence lie in a Hindu campaign to build a temple in the northern town of Ayodhya on the site of a 16th century mosque razed by Hindus in 1992.

Many killed in the train fire were returning from that city, where 20,000 Hindus had gathered, planning to begin construction March 15.

Most of the crowd left town last week but 550 Hindu activists remained, said police who sealed off the city.

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