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Train attacked in western India, toll reaches 55

New Delhi, 27 Feb. The death toll in a passenger train attacked this morning in Godhra in the western Indian state of Gujarat, has reached 55 and could go up, according to local authorities. There were around 75 passengers in the bogey which has been completely gutted. Reportedly four bogeys were set on fire. Dozens of injured have been admitted to local hospital for treatment.

The train was carrying Hindu volunteers who were returning after participating in a ceremony preceding the construction of the controversial Ram Temple at Ayodhya where Hindu extremists are converging at present to start the construction of a grand temple at the site of the martyred Babri Mosque. They were part of a 2500-strong contingent which had gone to Ayodhya on 22 Feb.

A makeshift temple already exists at the site since the demolition of the Babri Mosque in December 1992 but the extremists are adamant to build a grand permanent structure despite the fact the Mosque-Temple case is sub judice and the Indian geovernment has announced that it will not allow any change in the status quo unless there is an amicable Hindu-Muslim settlement or a court order is issued.

The state government has issued shoot-at-sight orders in the town in order to prevent the trouble from spreading to new areas. An indefinite curfew has been imposed in the town. Additional police force, including two companies of the State Reserve Police, have been rushed to Godhra. Senior ministers of the state government have been flown to Godhra to monitor the situation.

Gujarat chief minister, Narendra Modi, told the state legislative assembly that he has ordered a “high-level inquiry” into the incident. He also announced an ex-gratia compensation of 0.2 million rupees (over US$ 4000) to the next of kin of each of the dead.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee was quick to condemn the attack on the Sabarmati Express in Gujarat. "It is a very unfortunate and tragic incident," Vajpayee told reporters. "We are very worried about this incident. National security will be maintained at any cost," he added. 

Home Minister LK Advani, too, was quick to react. He has asked the Gujarat government to take ' expeditious' action against the arsonists who had set fire to the Sabarmati Express near Godhra this morning. Condemning the attack on the train, Mr Advani said he had spoken to Chief Minister Mr Modi and urged him to take ''expeditious action'' against the culprits.

Gujarat Chief Minister Narendra Modi has ordered a high-level inquiry into the incident where the Sabarmati Express was set on fire by a mob, said to be 'Muslim'. In earlier similar incidents, when 'Hindu' mobs attacked Muslims and Christians, same officials waited for 'reports' before issuing any statement and even offered clean chit to the criminals.

Reports said a 2,500-strong mob set fire to the train just outside the railway station in Godhra town. Reportedly the mob was enraged by provocative slogans raised by the VHP activists, attacked the train just after it left Godhra railway station at 6.30 am. Local officials have been quoted as saying that it was possible that some passengers from Godhra travelling by the train had been harassed along the way by the VHP activists returning from Ayodhya and they had incited the mob to attack the passengers after getting off the train.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which is spearheading the Temple movement, has called for a statewide strike to protest against the burning of the train. It said the government must protect the Temple volunteers. Griraj Kishor, VHP secretary general, said the incident would in no way deter the VHP from going ahead with its Ram temple construction plans which are slated to start on March 15.

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