Taiwan’s defense ministry detects 21 Chinese military aircraft

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Jeddah - Yasmine El Tohamy - MUZAFFARNAGAR: Hindu-Muslim enmity made way for peace in an Indian district that saw deadly riots a decade ago but religious divisions still influence residents who voted on Friday in general elections in which Hindu nationalism is a key theme.

Villages are largely self-segregated by religion in and around Muzaffarnagar district, in the most populous northern state of Uttar Pradesh, but people say there is no longer tension between the majority Hindu and minority Muslim communities.

Violent clashes broke out here in 2013 after two Hindus stabbed a Muslim youth to death, accusing him of sexually harassing their sister. They were later beaten to death by a Muslim mob, which sparked riots that killed about 65 people, mostly Muslims, and displaced thousands.

Violence has not returned to the district known as the country's sugarcane-belt, but political divisions remain as Hindus typically vote for Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and Muslims for the opposition.

Modi's government has "controlled Muslims", said Ramesh Chand, a Hindu biscuit baker in Kairana city near Muzaffarnagar.

Critics accuse the nationalist BJP of targeting India's 200 million minority Muslims to please their hardline Hindu base - charges they deny.

Modi is widely expected to win a third term on the back of strong growth, welfare and his personal popularity despite some concern about unemployment, price rises and rural distress.

Chand said Modi had improved security in the region. "We can live in peace, whether or not we have jobs ... We can sleep with our doors open."

There were opposing views too.

In Jaula village, sugarcane farmer Mohammed Irfan, 50, said Modi's "high-handedness against Muslims" as well as unemployment and inflation were major reasons for him voting for the opposition Samajwadi Party.

Uttar Pradesh elects 80 lawmakers to the 543-member lower house of parliament, the most among all states, and a strong showing here is critical to the nationwide outcome.

Support for Modi was visible in Kutba Kutbi village, the epicentre of the 2013 riots.

Although there is "brotherhood" between the two communities now, nearly all Muslim families left the village after the riots, said Vinay Kumar Baliyan, 43, a farmer who said he supports Modi for promoting economic growth and raising India's stature globally.

But Irfan said Muslims are expected to vote in larger numbers this time as Eid celebrations this month brought many migrant workers and students home.

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