HYDERABAD, India - Police killed three people after opening fire to break up religious clashes in southern India Wednesday, officers and reports said.

The violence broke out in the old quarter of Hyderabad, the capital city of Andhra Pradesh, which has a sizeable Muslim population. Trouble erupted after some people attacked houses and shops of a religious minority following rumours that a religious flag had been burnt. Security forces clamped a curfew on the area and the situation was under control, said police commissioner CV Anand. Police initially tried to break up the mob using sticks but then had to "open fire to disperse the clashing groups", Anand said.

The Press Trust of India (PTI) news agency said at least three people died in hospital of bullet wounds. The violence comes as India awaits the result Friday of a marathon general election in which the BJP of Hindu hardliner Narendra Modi is expected to sweep to power. Critics of Modi have voiced fears that a BJP victory could stoke religious tensions.

Extra police and paramilitary forces were rushed to the area as shopkeepers around Hyderabad's historic Charminar monument downed shutters for fear of more violence. Police in India, which has been swept by deadly religious violence numerous times in the past, are sensitive about identifying communities involved in clashes. Hyderabad police declined to say who was involved in Wednesday's rioting.  Anand appealed to residents to cooperate with police in restoring peace. The last major episode of religious violence was reported in August 2013 in Muzaffarnagar district in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

At least 50 people were killed.