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Indian PM accused over 2002 riots

A federal court in New York has summoned India's prime minister to respond to legal action accusing him of human rights abuses, casting a shadow over the Indian leader's first trip to the US as head of government.

The lawsuit against Narendra Modi stems from long-standing allegations that he did not do enough to stop devastating religious riots in his home state of Gujarat in 2002, when he served as chief minister there.

The human rights group American Justice Centre filed legal action in Manhattan federal court on behalf of two unnamed survivors of the violence.

The plaintiffs are seeking monetary and punitive damages and a judgment that Mr Modi's conduct amounted to genocide when he was chief minister of Gujarat.

The legal case will be an annoyance to Mr Modi but is unlikely to have a significant impact on his visit.

Milan Vaishnav, an associate on South Asia at the Carnegie Endowment for International Peace, said from his understanding it's a "pro forma" summons, and there's no judge's ruling of prima facie evidence on complicity in the Gujarat violence.

He said US courts also issued summons against previous Prime Minister Manmohan Singh and former ruling party leader Sonya Gandhi when they visited the US - in response to cases filed by another US-based rights group that have not gotten anywhere.

"There's no question it's precisely the wrong foot on which to begin Modi's visit to the United States," Vaishnav said, but predicted it would just get a brief flurry of attention.

"I don't expect it in any material way to affect any of his engagements in the United States, either with private citizens or private industry in New York or in Washington with the US administration."

Mr Modi was elected prime minister in May. He was scheduled to arrive in New York on Friday with a welcome normally reserved for rock stars - a sold-out appearance at Madison Square Garden on Sunday.

Mr Modi's five-day trip is tightly packed: He will be meeting US President Barack Obama and a slew of top American officials, addressing the UN General Assembly and interacting with the heads of major US companies and influential Indian-Americans.

He is also scheduled to meet privately with New York Mayor Bill de Blasio.

Mr Modi has denied any role in the violence, and India's Supreme Court said there was no case to bring against him.

But suspicions were enough for the United States to refuse him a visa in 2005. As it became clear that Mr Modi would become prime minister, however, the US made it clear that there would be no issue with travel to America.

Bizay Sonkar Shastri, a spokesman for Mr Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party, criticized the lawsuit, saying Mr Modi has been cleared of suspicion in India.

As chief minister of Gujarat state, he was in command in 2002 when Hindu mobs rampaged through Muslim neighbourhoods, towns and villages.

More than 1,000 people, most of them Muslims, were killed. It was some of the worst religious violence India has seen since its independence from Britain in 1947.

The riots erupted after a fire killed 60 passengers on a train packed with Hindu pilgrims.

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