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Fears of new violence in Gujarat

Staff and wires

NEW DELHI, India -- There are fears of more violence in western India after an opposition motion to censure the government for its handling of religious violence in Gujarat failed to win enough support.

Wednesday saw an uneasy calm in the city of Ahmedabad, the largest city in Gujarat and scene to some of the worst recent violence.

Hindu-Muslim clashes, which reached a peak in early March, have waned but sporadic violence has continued.

Despite a heavy security presence many people say they are too scared to return home with an estimated 100,000 Muslims still living in around 90 relief camps.

Although it survived the censure motion, observers say Tuesday's bitter debate in parliament left the coalition of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee bruised and battered, with mounting criticism of the government unlikely to be silenced.

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The opposition motion criticized the government for not doing enough to protect Muslims in Gujarat.

Mistakes made

Although the vote went comfortably in Vajpayee's favor, three party allies abstained from voting on the motion expressing "grave concern over the failure of the administration in ensuring the security" of Muslims in Gujarat.

For his part, Vajpayee admitted the government misjudged the situation and said his government should have tried harder to halt the violence.

Addressing parliament after the 16-hour debate on Tuesday, the Indian leader said it was time to look to the future and offered a $30 million aid package to help those displaced by the fighting.

More than 900 people are thought to have been killed in the violence that broke out after a Muslim mob firebombed a train carrying Hindu pilgrims in late February, killing 59.

Human rights groups and Western diplomats say the death toll may be closer to 2,000.

Attacks planned

On Tuesday, the New York-based group Human Rights Watch issued a damning report saying it had uncovered evidence Gujarat state officials were directly complicit in the violence and murder of hundreds of Muslims.

"What happened in Gujarat was not a spontaneous uprising, it was a carefully orchestrated attack against Muslims," said Smita Narula, South Asia researcher for Human Rights Watch and author of the report.

"The attacks were planned in advance and organized with extensive participation of the police and state government officials."

The group's report pointed to what it says are several instances where police officers led the victims directly into the hands of their killers.

Despite desperate calls for help, several witnesses reported being told by police: "We have no orders to save you."

Human Rights Watch named several Hindu nationalist organizations, including Prime Minister Vajpayee's own Bharatiya Janata Party, which it said were directly involved in organizing the attacks on Muslims.

It added that in recent days the Gujarat state administration has engaged in a massive cover-up of its own role in the violence.




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