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Islamic extremists set fire to hotel in Sivas, 35 killed

By SEVA ULMAN

ANKARA, Turkey -- The government imposed a two-day curfew Saturday on the town of Sivas, where 35 people died when Islamic zealots set fire to a hotel in an apparent attempt to kill the translator of British author Salman Rushdie's novel 'The Satanic Verses.'

The state-run television said 38 people were arrested in Sivas, some 225 miles east of Ankara, following rioting in the town Friday, when worshipers at a local mosque attacked and set fire to a hotel in an apparent attempt to kill the translator.

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The rioters called for the death of Aziz Nesin, who earlier translated Rushdie's novel 'The Satanic Verses' and had excerpts of his translation published in the newspaper Aydinlik.

Chanting: 'Death to Satanic Aziz,' the rioters rampaged through the town after Friday prayers, smashing shop windows and a statue, and then assembled at a hotel where Nesin had earlier addressed a conference.

One rioter reportedly spilled gasoline on the ground floor of the hotel and set it ablaze, trapping a large number of people inside. Nesin was not in the hotel at the time of the fire, but police said 35 people were killed, mostly by smoke inhalation.

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Reports from Sivas said about 500 people took part in the demonstrations and riots in the town, after pouring out of a mosque where they attended Friday prayer ceremonies.

Prime Minister Tansu Ciller, who dispatched several high-ranking officials to Sivas to investigate, announced in a television appearance that a two-day curfew was imposed on the town. Officials said the town has been quiet since the curfew began.

'The Satanic Verses' is considered by devout Muslims to be blasphemous to eslam and Prophet Mohammed. Rushdie has been in hiding since the late Iranian leader Ayatollah Ruhollah Khomeini issued a fatwa, or religious decree, calling for him to be killed.

Nesin, a self-declared atheist from a Muslim family, is believed to have enraged Muslims in the town by his speech at the conference, in which he said he did not believe in the Koran, the Islamic holy book.

Of the 35 people killed in the Sivas fire, only 23 have been identified so far, officials said.

Wednesday, 11 people were killed in the eastern Turkish city of Van, when a fire broke out in a hotel reportedly being used by Russian prostitutes to ply their trade. Arson by Islamic extremists was suspected, but there was no confirmation.

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