Hindu Mobs in India Stab Two Muslims
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AHMADABAD, India (AP) _ Hindu nationalists held angry protest marches and mobs stabbed two Muslim men in western India on Thursday as Muslims fled their homes to seek safety, fearing revenge riots after a bloody attack on a Hindu temple.
Paramilitary police deployed in several towns in Gujarat state, and officials said they were confident they could prevent a repeat of the sectarian violence that tore apart the state for three months earlier this year, leaving 1,000 dead, mostly Muslims.
Gujarat’s top elected official, Chief Minister Narendra Modi, blamed Islamic militants and again pointed an accusing finger at Pakistan, India’s neighbor and rival, for an attack that claimed the lives of 31 Hindu worshippers. Modi described the attack as a meticulously planned attempt to inflame hatred between Hindus and Muslims.
Hindu nationalists, who had called for a national strike to protest the temple raid, were on the streets in the Gujarati town of Baroda, carrying sharp weapons and shouting anti-Pakistan slogans, police said.
The strike shut down shops, schools and transportation in many parts of the country. Police detained hundreds of workers of the VHP _ the Hindi acronym for the World Hindu Council _ as they tried to enforce the strike across the country.
Activists shouting slogans and throwing stones stopped some passenger trains in the metropolis of Bombay, where most residents stayed home. Life in major cities in Uttar Pradesh state _ home to the largest number of Indian Muslims _ was paralyzed, including in Agra, site of the Taj Mahal, where shops and offices were closed and there was no public transport.
In the town of Surat in Gujarat state, Hindu mobs stabbed a Muslim man as he got out of a three-wheeled auto rickshaw, and another Muslim as he came out of his house, said Police Commissioner V.K. Gupta. He said both men were hospitalized and two Hindus had been arrested.
The town is about 190 miles north of Gandhinagar, the state capital, where two gunmen attacked a popular Hindu temple on Tuesday, killing 33 people before police commandos shot them to death 14 hours later. At least 76 people were wounded.
Gupta said army troops were being kept in reserve in Ahmadabad, the state’s largest city, while paramilitary police were deployed in Surat and other towns.
In the southern Ahmadabad suburb of Bapanagar, two Muslim-owned shops were ransacked and damaged by a mob armed with iron rods, police said.
The massacre raised fears of Hindu retaliation, such as that which followed a Feb. 27 attack by Muslims on a train carrying Hindu nationalists in Gujarat. Three months of Hindu-Muslim riots followed.
Tension was palpable in some areas. Muslim families fled neighborhoods with no police presence to government camps set up after the earlier violence. One camp, the Quresh Hall, in Ahmadabad jumped to 2,300 residents from 1,300 overnight.
Villagers who had been targeted by roving Hindu gangs in February trooped to the relative safety of towns. Posters condemning the temple attack began appearing in Muslim areas.
``What if there is another backlash?″ said Ershad Sayyed, who left his home Wednesday night and to join 100 others in a mosque.
``I am carrying whatever little cash I had, and some clothes. I hope nothing happens,″ said Maqsud Qureshi. Another refugee, Zubeidan Behlim, said: ``I pray that this mindless violence and bloodshed ends soon.″
The gunmen in the temple attack have not been identified, but police said they carried a letter saying they ``could not tolerate what happened to children, women and Muslims during the Gujarat riots.″
Modi said there were many similarities between the temple attack and another on the Indian Parliament in December. That incident pushed India and Pakistan to the brink of a war earlier this year.
There was no sign of compliance with the strike call Thursday in India’s capital, New Delhi. Extra police were posted in areas where Hindus and Muslims live close together, and temples and mosques were guarded.
The Indian army sent 3,000 soldiers to Gujarat to guard against any new violence, at the request of the state, which has been heavily criticized for not acting quickly to quell the earlier rioting.
Hindu nationalist groups allied with the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party said the strike was called to protest ``jihadi terrorism.″
``The strike is to warn that if the government does not act in time, people will take the law into their own hands,″ VHP’s general secretary Mohan Salekar said.