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Two killed in Shimoga as newspaper sparks Muslim riots

BANGALORE (Reuters) - A curfew was imposed on Shimoga town on Tuesday after two people were killed when Muslims rioted to protest against a newspaper article they said offended Islam, police said.

One of those killed was shot by police, who opened fire as they tried to stop hundreds of Muslims attacking shops and vehicles, Shimoga’s police chief S. Murugan said.

The town is about 250 km (170 miles) from Bangalore, the nerve centre of the country’s $60 billion outsourcing industry that runs services from software coding to managing computer networks and call centres.

If the violence spreads in reprisal attacks it could disrupt business.

Hundreds of Muslims took to the streets on Monday after a local newspaper published what it said was an article by controversial Bangladeshi author Taslima Nasrin challenging the traditional Muslim veil as curbing women’s freedom.

They vandalised shops and damaged vehicles. Protests also spread to Hassan town. Police said Hindus had retaliated at some places.

Nasrin denied writing the article and said she suspected a deliberate attempt to malign her.

“The incident that occurred in Karnataka on Monday shocked me,” she told Reuters in an email.

“I learned that it was provoked by an article written by me that appeared in a Karnataka Newspaper. But I have never written any article for any Karnataka newspaper in my life. The appearance of the article is atrocious.”

She added: “In any of my writings I have never mentioned that Prophet Muhammad was against burkha (Muslim veil).”

Nasrin’s work has sparked trouble in the past.

She fled Bangladesh for the first time in 1994 when a court said she had “deliberately and maliciously” hurt Muslims’ religious feelings with her Bengali-language novel “Lajja”, or “Shame”, which is about riots between Muslims and Hindus.

At the time, thousands of radical Muslims protested against her, demanding that she be killed for blasphemy, and some have continued to threaten her life ever since.

She spent about a decade in Western Europe and the United States before arriving in India in 2004 on a temporary residential permit.

Periodic protests by Indian Muslim hardliners have erupted against the doctor-turned-writer, who describes herself as a secular humanist, and criticises religion as an oppressive force.

In 2004, a Muslim cleric in India offered a $440 reward to anyone who was able to successfully humiliate her by blackening her face with shoe polish or ink or by garlanding her with shoes.

Several of her books have been banned in India and Bangladesh because they upset hardline Muslims.

The European Parliament awarded her the Sakharov Prize for freedom of thought in 1994.

Additional reporting by Sujoy Dhar; Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson