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Indians Riot After Denial Of U.S. Visa to Nationalist

By Rupak Sanyal
Associated Press
Sunday, March 20, 2005; Page A18

AHMADABAD, India, March 19 -- Hindu nationalists set fire to a PepsiCo warehouse in western India on Saturday to protest the U.S. denial of a visa to a state official because of his role in religious riots in 2002.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the U.S. government to urgently reconsider its decision.

Members of the Hindu nationalist Shiv Sena party shout anti-U.S. slogans in New Delhi to protest the denial of a U.S. visa to Gujarat state's chief minister. (Manish Swarup -- AP)

The State Department said Friday that it had denied a diplomatic visa to the Hindu nationalist chief minister of Gujarat state, Narendra Modi, and revoked his existing tourist/business visa under the U.S. Immigration and Nationality Act. That act bars people responsible for violations of religious freedom from getting a visa.

Nearly 150 activists barged into the warehouse of U.S.-based PepsiCo in the western city of Surat, smashed bottles and set fire to the building, said Dharmesh Joshi, a witness. Police confirmed the attack.

The warehouse was partially burned. The demonstrators were from the Bajrang Dal, a group affiliated with Modi's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which governs Gujarat state.

The protesters also ransacked a nearby PepsiCo office and demonstrated outside the U.S. consulate in Bombay. PepsiCo representatives could not be reached for comment.

Some of the protesters carried placards reading, "Down with the United States" and "Boycott the U.S. goods and the Americans."

The State Department had no immediate comment, said spokesman Noel Clay.

The department has said Modi was denied a visa in response to a finding by India's National Human Rights Commission that held his state government responsible for the 2002 Hindu-Muslim violence, India's worst in a decade, in Gujarat.

Human rights groups have accused the state government of doing little to stop the violence that killed 1,000 people, most of them Muslims.

Up to 150 Bajrang Dal activists also tried to enter the U.S. visa application center in Ahmadabad, the main Gujarat city, but were turned back by police.

The Indian prime minister said the U.S. government had been told that his country was deeply concerned about the visa denial and had been asked to reconsider its decision.

Modi, who had been scheduled to address an association of motel owners in New York and to meet with Indians living in several U.S. cities, has called the decision an insult to India.

In Ahmadabad, Suleiman Shaikh, a Muslim who had lost his wife and two children in the 2002 rioting, welcomed the decision.

"While the Indian judiciary system is yet to prosecute Modi and his men responsible for the killing of innocent Muslims, the U.S. decision comes as an indication of how Modi was being dealt with internationally," Shaikh said.

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