Thousands of paramilitary police patrolled the streets of a northern Indian town to prevent clashes between Hindus and Muslims, as Hindu hardliners prepared to hold rallies yesterday to mark the 12th anniversary of the destruction of a 16th-century mosque.
Police barricaded many of the streets leading to the site of the demolished Babri Mosque in Ayodhya town, and frisked people entering the area. Nearby shops and businesses were closed amid fears of fights breaking out in a region with a history of deadly religion-fueled violence.
Tens of thousands of Hindu activists demolished the Babri Mosque with spades, crowbars and their bare hands on Dec. 6, 1992, sparking fierce clashes between Hindus and Muslims that killed 2,000 people across India.
Hindu leaders claim the mosque in Ayodhya, 550km east of New Delhi, was built by Mogul rulers at the site of a Hindu temple. They believe the site is the birthplace of Hinduism's supreme god, Ram, but Muslims say there is no proof of that claim.
The dispute over the site still rages, with the leader of the main opposition Bharatiya Janata Party vowing to build a Hindu temple there.
Meanwhile, a long-running court case on competing Hindu-Muslim claims to the site continues to drag on.
Each year, Hindu hardliners observe Dec. 6 as "Victory Day," while Muslims and opposition groups observe it as "Black Day."
India's ruling Congress Party organized a Hindu-Muslim feast in Ayodhya yesterday to foster better relations between Hindus and Muslims.