Thousands rally against Muslim persecution in India

NEW DELHI Thu Jan 29, 2009 6:17pm IST

NEW DELHI Jan 29 (Reuters) - At least two thousand people rallied in New Delhi on Thursday to protest the killing and imprisonment of Muslims, saying innocent members of the community became targets after bomb attacks in India in recent years.

Many demonstrators holding banners like "Give us security, not tears and blood" arrived by train from Azamgarh district in the neighbouring Uttar Pradesh state, where the protesters said many Muslim youths have been arrested on scant evidence.

Local politicians and students joined mainly Muslim men at the rally in demanding a judicial probe into the police shooting last year of two Muslims who were from the district.

Before the Mumbai attacks made world headlines, militant attacks had rocked Indian cities for more than a year and homegrown Islamist groups claimed responsibility for some of them.

Muslim leaders said many youths were unfairly targeted as a result.

"Whoever has put false charges against them (Muslims), they should be tried in court as to why they picked up innocent Muslim boys and ruined their career," Mohammad Tahir Madani, a Muslim leader who spoke at the rally, told Reuters.

The government of the southern Indian state of Andhra Pradesh paid compensation to 21 Muslims found to have been tortured in custody when police wrongly held them in connection with serial bomb blasts in the state capital Hyderabad in 2007.

Several Hindus, including a serving army officer and a monk and nun, were arrested last year over alleged involvement in blasts in the Muslim-dominated town of Malegaon in western Maharashtra state that killed four people.

Those attacks were originally blamed on Islamist militants.

Security will likely be a key election issue when India holds elections by May.

Muslims, which represent of the 13 percent of India's 1.1 billion plus population, are an important voter constituency, especially for the ruling Congress-led coalition government.

Some at the rally said the government has not defended them for fear of offending the country's majority Hindu population.

"The war against terror has become the war against the Muslims," local Muslim politician Wasim Ahmad Ghazi said. (Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Sanjeev Miglani)

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