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Indian police open fire on mob

Police try to clear a road after the burning of tires by activists in Bhubaneshwar, eastern India.
Police try to clear a road after the burning of tires by activists in Bhubaneshwar, eastern India.  

AHMEDABAD, India (CNN) -- Police have opened fire on a mob of Hindus and Muslims battling each other in a third day of religious violence sweeping northern India.

The clashes were sparked by an attack on a train that was blamed on Muslims and claimed 58 lives -- mostly Hindus.

At least 135 people have died in the violence across Gujarat state, India's home secretary Kamal Pande said. In Ahmedabad, 111 people have been killed, Pande said. That number is expected to rise, following the continued rioting Friday.

Nearly 1,300 Indian army soldiers are in Ahmedabad, patrolling the streets and trying to control the situation, described as "precarious" by local officials. The mayor of Ahmedabad described the violence as the worst in more than a decade.

At least another 100 people were injured and taken to local hospitals.

The first major indication that a truce may be achievable did arrive later Friday, with a hardline Indian Hindu group offering to delay its plan to build a controversial temple , the Press Trust of India news agency reported.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said it would put off the move to start building the temple on a site sacred to Hindus and Muslims from March 15 if the government allowed it to erect two holy pillars destined for the temple on nearby land for devotees to worship, PTI reported.

Torched alive

CNN's Satinder Bindra reports on a town ripped apart by Hindus firebombing and killing Muslims after a train carrying Hindu activists was set on fire.

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Several survivors in Ahmedabad told of gruesome circumstances in which they said they were attacked by large mobs with firebombs, then with sticks, swords, and knives, according to CNN's Satinder Bindra.

One man said five members of his family were killed in the violence.

The uprising began Wednesday when a large group, believed to be organized Muslims, fire-bombed a train carrying Hindu activists near Godhra, police said.

The activists were returning from a demonstration in the central Indian town of Ayodhya, where they were demanding the Indian government build a Hindu temple on the ruins of a Muslim mosque destroyed by Hindus nearly a decade ago.

Authorities said the Hindu activists had gotten into an altercation with a group of Muslims earlier that day.

In retaliation for the attack, Hindu rioters began torching Muslim homes and Muslim-owned shops throughout the state.

In one incident Thursday, police said 16 Muslims were torched alive in their home, among them a local legislator. Two rioters were then shot dead by police.

Firefighters have been called in to deal with many of the situations but in many instances are blocked by mobs from reaching the flames.

Town under siege

The situation across Gujarat remained tense Friday, with local officials saying at least 26 towns were under curfew.

Hindu nationalist volunteers are demanding the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque.
Hindu nationalist volunteers are demanding the construction of a Hindu temple at the site of a Muslim mosque.  

A right-wing Hindu group, the World Hindu Council, issued a call Friday for a nationwide strike.

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee canceled a trip to Australia to monitor the situation from New Delhi. He has appealed to Hindu activists to call off their campaign.

The government banned any activity on the site of the Ayodhya mosque, saying it would take stern action against anyone found violating court orders.

The Ayodhya mosque -- believed to be built on the site where the Hindu god, Ram, was born -- was destroyed by Hindu mobs in 1992. The act sparked nationwide riots and has been blamed for thousands of deaths.

About 12 percent of Hindu-majority India's more than one billion people are Muslim. While the country is officially secular, religious tensions constantly strain its social peace.

-- CNN New Delhi Bureau Chief Satinder Bindra contributed to this report


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