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Communal riots accused get life sentences

AHMEDABAD, India, Nov. 10 (UPI) -- A special Indian court handed down life sentences to 31 people convicted in the killing of 33 people in the 2002 communal riots in western Gujarat state.

The Hindu newspaper said the 33 Muslim victims were burned alive in a house where they had taken shelter in Sardarpura town in Mehsana district to escape mob fury. Communal riots, which eventually claimed the lives of nearly 2,000 people, broke out in the state after 59 Hindus were burned to death earlier in a train in Godhra town in the same state.

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S.C. Srivatsava, judge of special court in Mehsana, acquitted 42 defendants due to lack of evidence and benefit of doubt, the newspaper said. It is the first such court ruling in the Gujarat riots.

Legal experts told The Hindu the life sentences for such a large number of people for mob violence was unprecedented.

The court rejected prosecutors' accusations of criminal conspiracy, which could have resulted in death penalties, saying the killings of the 33 people the night of March 1, 2002, occurred at the spur of the moment two days after the Godhra train carnage, the Hindu reported.

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R.B. Sreekumar, who was director-general of the Gujarat police intelligence bureau in 2002, said, "There were reports that the Indian system is failing by not protecting minorities, but this is a healthy outcome," the Los Angeles Times reported.

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