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Thousands flee south Indian city after communal violence

Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation - Thu, 16 Aug 2012 13:30 GMT
Author: Reuters
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By Harichandan Arakali

BANGALORE, India, Aug 16 (Reuters) - Thousands of people from India's northeast fled from the southern city of Bangalore on Thursday as fear grew of a backlash over violence against Muslims in the state of Assam and neighbouring Myanmar.

Over the weekend, two people were killed and 55 wounded when about 10,000 people rioted in the financial capital of Mumbai after Muslims held a protest against violence against members of their religion.

Muslims across India have been alarmed by clashes in recent weeks between indigenous people in the northeastern state of Assam and Muslim settlers from neighbouring Bangladesh. About 75 people have been killed and more than 400,000 displaced.

Separately, at least 80 people were killed and tens of thousands were displaced in the western Myanmar state of Rakhine in days of clashes between members of the majority Buddhist community and minority Muslims that erupted in June.

The violence has angered Muslims around the world and raised tension in India where religious and ethnic divisions have simmered for decades, occasionally erupting into communal blood-letting.

Rumours of revenge attacks by angry Muslims have been swirling, many carried on social media. Adding to the climate of fear was a knife attack on a Tibetan student in a town near Bangalore although the circumstances were not clear.

The jitters sent throngs of northeasterners to Bangalore railway station, looking for a ride home.

"Right now people from the northeast have got threats to vacate their houses and some of them got beaten up here and there," said Vivek Raj Kumar, a member of a group representing students from the northeastern state of Manipur.

Railway authorities laid on two extra trains on Wednesday night to take about 7,000 people on the two-day journey to Assam.

MORE VIOLENCE IN THE HILLS

Top interior ministry official R.K Singh called for calm and said people from the northeast were safe anywhere in the country. He blamed "rumour-mongering" for the panic.

Assam's Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi said rumours were spreading "like wildfire" over social media and mobile telephone text messages.

"New technology is responsible for spreading rumours. It moves faster and reaches more people," Gogoi said.

But fresh violence flared in previously calm areas of the hill state of Assam on Thursday, with a mob of hundreds of people burning a bus and a bridge, apparently in retaliation for a similar attack on a car, officials said.

Police opened fire to disperse another mob and one person was injured.

Analysts have accused political parties and religious organisations of exploiting ethnic tension for their ends.

The Hindu nationalist opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), which has in the past been accused of fomenting Hindu-Muslim violence, blames the Assam riots on uncontrolled immigration into the state from Muslim-majority Bangladesh.

It says the Congress party, which leads a ruling coalition, allows immigration to win votes from new arrivals.

A BJP chief in the eastern state of Odisha called on Thursday for all illegal Bangladeshi immigrants to be identified and expelled.

(Additional reporting by Diksha Madhok, Biswajyoti Das and Jatindra Dash; Writing by Frank Jack Daniel; Editing by Robert Birsel)

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