March 19, AHMADABAD, India (AP) - Police shot four people to death Tuesday while trying to disperse mobs and halt looting in two towns in India's Gujarat state, beset by three weeks of religious violence that has killed 718 people.

Two people were killed and five injured when police fired on rioters in two Muslim areas in the town of Bharuch, said local official Anju Sharma. He added that a curfew had been imposed on parts of the town 100 miles south of Ahmadabad, the state's largest city.

In the town of Modasa, there was widespread arson and looting and ``two persons have been killed in police firing,'' said police superintendent Nitiraj Solanki at the district headquarters in Sabarkantha. ``We are still taking stock of the situation,'' Solanki said, adding that several shops were burned.

It was unclear whether the dead were Hindus or Muslims. Most of the dead in recent weeks have been Muslims killed by groups of Hindus.

The violence in Gujarat began Feb. 27 when a Muslim crowd burned a train car carrying Hindu activists, killing 58 people. The army has been called in to help police restore order, but new incidents of Hindu-Muslim violence have occurred almost daily.

The roots of the violence in Gujarat lie in the Hindu-Muslim dispute over a religious site in the ancient town of Ayodhya.

Hindu fundamentalists want to build a temple on the site of a 16th century mosque that they razed in 1992. Muslims want to rebuild the mosque on the same site.

On Tuesday, an influential Muslic cleric in New Delhi said Muslims won't be cowed by threats from Hindu nationalists.

``Those who threaten the Muslims are doing irreparable harm,'' said Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the head cleric of India's biggest mosque, the Jama Masjid in New Delhi.

The cleric was reacting to a statement issued Sunday by the Hindu nationalist group Rashtriya Swayamsewak Sangh, which is associated with Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party. The group said that the safety of Muslims in the country depended on the goodwill of the Hindu majority.

Bukhari demanded a ban on the group and the nationalist World Hindu Council, saying they were spreading hatred against Muslims and threatening the unity of the country.

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