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India's Modi seeks to reassure Muslims in rare TV interview

Published on Apr 13, 2014 12:59 AM

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi, tipped to be India's next premier, sought on Saturday to reassure the nation's big Muslim minority he would respect their traditions, as 14 people died in the worst violence since the start of a marathon election.

Modi's statements in a rare television interview to be aired late Saturday came as police confirmed Maoist rebels in insurgency-hit central India killed 14 people, most of them involved in helping stage the general election.

Protection of majority Hindu India's secular status has surfaced as a key election issue with critics worrying Modi's Hindu nationalist rhetoric could stoke religious tensions in a country where 13 per cent of the 1.2-billion population is Muslim.

In interview exerpts on India TV's website, Modi, leading the campaign of the opposition Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), said he refused to don a skullcap presented to him by a Muslim cleric three years ago because he did not want "to hoodwink people".

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