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Indian troops patrol Gujarat after deadly communal riots kill 10

Indian troops patrol Gujarat after deadly communal riots kill 10

AHMEDABAD: A court in Gujarat ordered a police inquiry on Thursday after at least ten people died in the worst violence to hit the Indian prime minister's home state in more than a decade.

Police opened fire on protesters when rioting broke out following a mass rally by members of the Patidar caste to demand preferential treatment over jobs and university places.

One police officer was also killed in the clashes with demonstrators, which appear to have been triggered by the brief detention of protest leader Hardik Patel in the main city of Ahmedabad.

High Court judge J B Pardiwala ordered the Ahmedabad police commissioner to conduct an inquiry into claims officers deliberately damaged cars and other property belonging to members of the Patidar community.

“This is very disturbing. If the police does so, what is the difference between rioters and protectors? What message will go to people?” said Pardiwala.

Schools in Ahmedabad remained closed Thursday and there was a heavy police and military presence, but an AFP correspondent in the city said it was calm and shops and businesses had begun to reopen.

Protesters torched cars, buses and police stations after 22-year-old Patel's detention late Tuesday.

The Patidars or Patels are one of the state's most affluent communities, but they say they are struggling to compete with less privileged castes for jobs.

India sets aside a proportion of government jobs and university places for some castes under measures intended to bring victims of the worst discrimination into the mainstream.

But the policy causes resentment among other communities who say it freezes them out.

“We want to maintain peace, but what the police has done is unpardonable, “Patel told journalists in Ahmedabad on Thursday, demanding compensation of 3.5 million rupees for victims' families.

The violence began in Ahmedabad on Tuesday but spread quickly to other cities including Surat, centre of India's lucrative diamond trade.

Many of the victims were killed when police opened fire on rioters, but one officer died in hospital late Wednesday of injuries sustained in the clashes.

A 45-year-old man also died late Wednesday after he was stabbed to death by “an unruly mob”, bringing the toll up to ten, local police official H J Chaudhary told AFP.

It is the first time troops have been deployed in Gujarat since religious violence in 2002 that left more than 1,000 people dead, most of them Muslims, shortly after Modi took over as the state's chief minister.

Gujarat is one of India's most affluent states and political leaders appeared to have been taken by surprise by the scale of the protest movement, which began earlier this year but has rapidly gathered pace in recent weeks.

On Wednesday Modi, who led the state until his party stormed to victory in last year's elections, appealed for calm.

“I appeal to all brothers and sisters of Gujarat that they should not resort to violence,” Modi said in a statement.

In a statement late Thursday, Amnesty International urged Gujarat authorities to avoid using “unnecessary or excessive force”, asking troops to use firearms only as a last resort as per international standards.

State authorities have already ruled out granting the Patidars' request and it is unclear how the movement's 22-year-old leader managed to mobilise such huge numbers.

On Wednesday he appealed for peace but vowed to keep up the pressure on the Gujarat government.

“This is a fight for our rights... we will continue with our campaign on the roads and the streets,” he said in a television interview.

At least a dozen officers were injured in Tuesday's violence, prompting the first curfew in the state since 2002.

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