NEW DELHI (AFP) – Hundreds of troops have been deployed to India's northern state of Uttar Pradesh after at least 23 people were killed in a weekend of communal violence, officials and reports said Monday.
Television footage showed troops on patrol in riot-hit areas with villagers taking refuge in police stations in the worst-hit Muzaffarnagar district, around 105 kilometres (65 miles) northeast of the capital New Delhi.
"According to our latest reports, 23 people have died so far," a senior official in the home ministry told AFP on condition of anonymity.
"The army is here now. The situation is under control."
Other reports put the death toll at 26, including a reporter for the local IBN7 television network.
The NDTV network said that 800 troops had been deployed to the state which is the most populous in India.
The clashes broke out late Saturday after thousands of Hindu farmers held a meeting in Kawal village to demand justice over the killing of three men who had spoken out when a woman was being harassed.
The farmers were attacked as they were returning home, triggering an angry backlash.
Clashes then broke out in neighbouring villages and army had to step in to bring the situation under control, reports said.
The state, home to around 200 million people, witnessed deadly riots in 1992 following the razing of a mosque by a Hindu mob.
More than 2,000 people -- mostly Muslims -- were killed in unrest after the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya was demolished on December 6.
Hindus believe that the mosque was built by the Moghul emperor Babur on the site of a temple marking the birthplace of the Hindu warrior god Ram.
The destruction infuriated Indian Muslims, who make up 13 percent of the population.
Uttar Pradesh's Chief Minister Akhilesh Yadav has appealed for calm to all sections of the community.
"I would appeal to all people there to maintain peace and don't trust or listen to any rumours," he told reporters in the state capital Lucknow on Sunday.
The ruling Samajwadi Party has accused leaders of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) of fuelling tensions with inflammatory speeches.
The BJP is currently working to revive its fortunes before general elections due in 2014 by steering clear of Hindu nationalist themes and attacking the ruling Congress party government over a string of corruption scandals.