Ethnic riots sweep Assam, at least 30 killed

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(Reuters) - Police shot dead four rioters in Assam on Tuesday as security forces struggled to contain ethnic fighting that has killed at least 30 people and left riverside hamlets ablaze, forcing tens of thousands from their homes.


Police opened fire on rioters burning property in the Bodo-dominated Kokrajhar district, killing the four, police inspector general S.N. Singh told Reuters. Police found four more bodies in a neighbouring district.


Earlier on Tuesday, hundreds of men armed with spears, clubs and rocks attacked an express train passing through Kokrajhar, injuring several passengers. In another incident, several people suffered bullet wounds and others were injured in a stampede when police fired to disperse a gang of 400, a senior police official said.


Rival mobs have spread to rural areas in three districts, targeting hamlets along river banks and in the jungle. About 500 villages have been destroyed by arson, said police.


In recent years, Hindu and Christian tribes have vented strong anti-immigrant and anti-Muslim sentiment against Bangladeshi settlers. The Bodo tribe has clashed with Bengalis in deadly riots several times since the 1950s. Thirty years ago, about 2,000 people, mainly Muslims, died in riots in Assam.


Hagrama Mohilary, the leader of the tribal council governing the region, warned that former separatist rebels had joined the violence to protect Bodo villages. He called for the rebels, who are officially observing a ceasefire, to lay down their arms.


Assam's chief minister, Tarun Gogoi, told TV network CNN-IBN he hoped the situation would be under control within two days. He said about 30,000 villagers have fled their homes and taken shelter in relief camps, but local officials said the numbers were at least twice that.


Tribal leader Mohilary said relief camps were overcrowded and short of food and medicine because roadblocks across the region had stopped supply trucks.




(Editing by Nick Macfie and Alison Williams)

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