LUCKNOW, India (AP) — Violence has eased in an area of northern India battered by days of deadly clashes between Hindus and Muslims, with a massive deployment of security forces keeping most rioters off the streets, police said Tuesday.
Authorities reported no violence overnight around the town of Muzaffarnagar, where the violence that started Saturday killed at least 31 people, wounded an unknown number of others and drove thousands from their homes. Both sides have blamed the other for starting the violence.
Police and soldiers flooded the town and nearby areas, some 480 kilometers (300 miles) from Lucknow, the capital of Uttar Pradesh state, and put a strict curfew into effect, ordering rioters to be shot on sight. By Monday evening, about 200 people had been arrested.
"The situation is improving," Praveer Kumar, a senior police official in Muzaffarnagar, said by phone. "We have not decided yet when to lift the curfew, but given the situation, it should be soon."
The violence began Saturday night after a meeting of thousands of Hindu farmers called for justice in the Aug. 27 killing of three young men from the village of Kawal. Officials said some farmers delivered hate-filled speeches against Muslims.
Clashes with Muslims broke out after the meeting, with many using guns, swords, stones or knives, senior police officer Arun Kumar said.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh expressed grief and shock over the deaths, while the central government warned that communal violence was expected to escalate further in the run-up to next year's national elections. Already this year, 451 incidents have been reported, compared with 410 for all of 2012, Home Minister Sushilkumar Shinde said.
Hindu and Muslim patients were being kept in separate rooms at the hospital in Muzaffarnagar.
As local politicians on all sides accused one another of inciting the latest violence in Uttar Pradesh, the state barred people, including politicians, from visiting riot-affected areas.
The state's opposition blamed the government for failing to maintain law and order, while the state's top elected official accused opposition parties of inciting the violence to undermine his administration.
"The violence is a political conspiracy to defame and destabilize my government," Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav said.
Shops and schools were closed Monday in and around Muzaffarnagar, as soldiers searched homes for weapons. Some 5,000 paramilitary officers joined the troops and thousands of local police on patrol.
Authorities stopped all newspaper deliveries and TV broadcasts in the area, but incendiary rumors spread by mobile phones and social media were still fueling the violence and making it difficult for soldiers to restore calm, state police inspector Ashish Gupta said.
The neighboring mountain state of Uttarakhand was also on alert.