April 19, 2002

NEW DELHI, India (AP) - A tough-talking Muslim cleric on Friday accused Hindus of spreading terrorism across South Asia, and said India could disintegrate if attacks on Muslims continue.

Shahi Imam Syed Ahmed Bukhari, the chief priest of the ancient Jama Masjid, India's largest mosque, said Prime Minister Atal Bihari Vajpayee was trying to convert India into a Hindu theocratic state. In his Friday speech before thousands of supporters, he said Vajpayee's party had presided over a ``genocide of Muslims in Gujarat.''

More than 830 people, mostly Muslims, have been killed in religious rioting in western Gujarat state since the Feb. 27 killing of 60 Hindus by a Muslim mob which set fire to a passenger train.

Bukhari compared the Muslims' anger to the discontent among the Tamil community in Sri Lanka, where rebel leader Velupillai Prabhakaran started the Liberation Tigers of Tamileelam to fight for a separate homeland.

``Those who decide the future of India should keep in mind that if this chain of riots continues a Prabhakaran may also come out of Muslims,'' Bukhari thundered. ``If this happens, who would save this country from disintegration?''

Bukhari accused Hindus of carrying out terrorist attacks across South Asia.

``Who is busy in terrorism in Nepal? Who is spreading terrorism in Sri Lanka?'' he asked. ``These are only Hindu thugs.''

Most of the Maoist rebels fighting to overthrow the monarchy in the royal kingdom of Nepal are from Hindu families, though many consider themselves atheists. The Tamil Tiger rebels waging an 18-year war in Sri Lanka are also Hindus.

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