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Religious violence worsens in western India

Displaced Muslims wait for food in Ahmedabad.
Displaced Muslims wait for food in Ahmedabad.  

AHMEDABAD, India (CNN) -- Worsening religious violence in the western state of Gujarat has left dozens dead in the last week and spawned a growing refugee crisis as more than 100,000 people, mostly Muslims, have taken shelter in camps.

About 300 to 400 Muslims and Hindus rioted Thursday for the fifth straight day in the old city section of Ahmedabad, tossing stones and firebombs at each other from windows and rooftops for well over an hour.

Seven Muslims were killed in the western city -- about 80 percent Hindu -- in riots on Tuesday, prompting authorities to impose a curfew in parts of the state and to put police on high alert.

Thirty-four people have been killed since Sunday, including some burned alive by firebombs. More than 860 have died since India's worst religious bloodshed erupted following a train attack that killed 58 Hindus in February.

"What has happened in Gujarat has shocked us all," said Kapil Sibal, an Indian parliament member whose party is critical of the government's response to the riots. "We don't want the situation to worsen and spread to other parts of the country."

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CNN's Satinder Bindra says that violence and hatred between Hindus and Muslims in Gujarat, India, have divided cities into ghettoes.

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CNN's Satinder Bindra shows the victims of four days of Hindu-Muslim violence in India, as they mourn loved ones and fear for the future.

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The continuing violence has forced many people to flee their homes and pour into already overcrowded refugee shelters.

"There's no end to the influx. People are coming in scared to death, with nothing but the clothes on their backs," Abdul Rashid, head of Ahmedabad's biggest relief camp, Shah Alam, told Reuters. Two thousand people had arrived in the past three days, he said.

Hunger strike

The government's reaction to the crisis has not pleased many of the country's lawmakers.

On Wednesday, India's main opposition Congress Party held a one-day hunger strike to urge the government to act in Gujarat. Next Tuesday, the upper and lower houses of parliament are scheduled to debate a motion to censure the government for its handling of the crisis.

The censure motion is viewed as a very public test of the coalition government led by Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party. How the vote turns out could determine the extent of Vajpayee's authority and the future of his multi-party coalition, political observers say.

Many blame the central government as well as Gujarat authorities for failing to prevent rioting Hindu mobs from killing Muslims. Much of the blame has fallen on state chief minister Narendra Modi, who critics say failed to stem the anti-Muslim violence.

Opposition and even some coalition partners have been calling for the removal of Modi, who is a member of Vajpayee's party. Vajpayee and other government officials have stood by Modi throughout the crisis, resisting calls to sack him.

The political wrangling, though, offers little comfort to the people of Gujarat, who are desperate for the violence to end.

"If the police in Gujarat can't improve the situation, get some elsewhere," Ahmed Patel told Reuters. "This can't go on."


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