Wed, Oct 15, 2003 - Page 5 News List

Indian police brace for more bloodshed in religious clashes


Indian police have surrounded a camp of 2,000 Hindu hardliners and arrested thousands more in a bid to block a potentially explosive rally on Friday to demand a Hindu temple be built over a razed mosque.

Over 70,000 activists are heading to the northern town of Ayodhya that has been a lightning rod for Hindu-Muslim tension since the Babri mosque was destroyed in 1992, sparking some of India's worst religious rioting that killed 3,000 people.

Some of the 3,100 arrested so far have been released and sent back where they came from, but police have also besieged a camp on Ayodhya's outskirts with about 2,000 activists inside.

"They can do whatever they like inside, but ... they will not be allowed to step out of the premises," district magistrate Deepak Kumar said.

Police are on alert across northern India and troops are due in Ayodhya within the next two days to reinforce more than 10,000 police already deployed.

The last time Hindu hardliners called a rally in March last year, thousands also made their way to Ayodhya, but many were stopped by police and the protest fizzled out peacefully.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), a hardline ally of the ruling Bharatiya Janata Party, has called the rally to push for a massive temple on what Hindus believe is the birthplace, before recorded history, of the revered god-king Ram.

The rally has fuelled fears of fresh communal violence after more than 1,000 people, mostly Muslims, were burned or hacked to death last year in the western Gujarat state following the death of 59 Hindus when a trainload of Ayodhya pilgrims was torched.

More than 20,000 activists have been piling into trains -- some passing through the station where last year's trouble started -- and buses out of Gujarat.

Another 50,000 are expected from Maharashtra state, whose capital, Mumbai, was the scene of some of the worst rioting after the destruction of the Babri mosque.

Underscoring how quickly tensions can flare, four people were injured in a small communal clash in Mumbai overnight -- after a Muslim boy made offensive comments to a Hindu girl.

The government has banned the rally in accordance with a court ruling outlawing any religious activity near the disputed site until the issue can be settled.

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