PM hears distress stories, wants action against killers

Muzaffarnagar, Sep 16 (IANS) A grim looking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh Monday demanded "strictest action" against those who killed during the communal violence here as he consoled victims who related tales of horror to him and Congress leaders Sonia Gandhi and Rahul Gandhi.

Over a week after the three-day orgy ended leaving 48 people dead and thousands homeless, Manmohan Singh toured some of the troubled villages, meeting villagers and discussing the relief and rehabilitation measures with officials.

A large number of men and women spoke to the prime minister and the Gandhis from behind wooden barricades, with security personnel keeping a close watch. Some were teary eyed as they narrated incidents of those three days when mobs set upon innocents as they fled their village homes.

"Efforts will be made to ensure that the strictest action be taken against those behind the (violence)," Manmohan Singh said after touring some of the most affected places.

"I, Soniaji and Rahul Gandhi have come here to share your grief and to

understand the magnitude of the violence," he said.

"This is a big incident and the culprits behind the incident must be brought to book. It is the government's responsibility to safeguard life and property so that people can again return to their homes."

The prime minister said the central government would assist the Uttar Pradesh government to ensure that victims of the violence got all help.

At some places, Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi were together as people spoke to them. Rahul Gandhi mingled with victims separately accompanied by Minister of State of Home R.P.N. Singh.

Speaking to residents of Budhana Road in Muzaffarnagar, 130 km from Delhi, the prime minister said: "Please maintain peace and calm."

He spoke to officials as he walked through Bassi Kalan village and later Tawli.

Both Manmohan Singh and Sonia Gandhi also stopped by the roadside to talk to villagers of Barvala.

The prime minister was all ears as distraught people met him, complaining against the Uttar Pradesh government for not coming to their rescue as the violence raged. "I am here to share your pain," he said.

Monday's visit by the prime minister and the Gandhis -- slammed by the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) as "secular tourism" -- came a day after Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav was met by angry residents when he went to Muzaffarnagar.

There was no overt display of anger Monday.

The Muzaffarnagar communal violence -- the worst in the state in two decades -- forced the authorities to deploy the army, for the first time in Uttar Pradesh in more than 20 years.

Although day curfew has since been lifted, night curfew continues in Muzaffarnagar. While there has been no fresh violence for days, tensions have not totally abated.

Manmohan Singh asked the state government to ensure the rehabilitation of the thousands now sheltered in makeshift relief centres.

He told reporters that he expected the security scenario to improve.

"People behind such ghastly violence would be punished and all help extended to the UP government."

While Manmohan Singh spoke to Divisional Commissioner Bhuvnesh Kumar and District Magistrate Kaushal Raj Sharma, Sonia Gandhi mingled with women and sought to know the sequence of events.

Rahul Gandhi asked R.P.N. Singh to take petitions from the people and address their issues.

Uttar Pradesh Governor B.L. Joshi and Uttar Pradesh Health Minister Ahmed Hasan accompanied the prime minister.

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