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 Thursday, 16 January, 2003, 16:11 GMT
Gunmen cause India temple panic
Soldiers guard a famous temple
Troops have guarded some temples since late 2002

There was panic at a famous Hindu temple in the southern Indian city of Hyderabad when two armed men entered the temple complex.

However, the men, both masked, ran away without causing any damage.

The police say they suspect the men were robbers rather than militants.

Last year, nearly 45 people were killed when Muslim militants attacked two Hindu temples.

Security at temples was tightened after those attacks and some temples have taken out insurance policies against militant assaults.

Attempted robbery

A Deputy Commissioner of police in Hyderabad, CV Anand, said the two men entered the Birla temple complex using a rear gate, and one of them was armed.

He said as the two men headed towards the main temple building, they came across a priest and threw chilli powder at him.

This led to some commotion, he said, and sensing trouble, other priests immediately closed the gates leading to the temple's sanctum sanctorum.

The intruders, however, ran away soon afterwards. As the news spread, many people gathered at the temple.

Police have described the incident as an attempted robbery. Mr Anand said he suspected the two men had planned to rob gold from the temple.

The temple, dedicated to Venkateshwara - believed by Hindus to be an incarnation of Lord Vishnu - is among the richest temples in Hyderabad.

There was nearly 40 kg of gold in the temple at the time of the incident.

Vulnerable entrance

Mr Anand said it was not a militant attack and had the intruders been militants, they would have fired at the devotees.

He said it appeared they were not carrying a sophisticated weapon.

He also said the intruders were speaking in Telugu, the state's local language.

The temple is a famous tourist attraction and is visited by thousands of devotees every day.

Following attacks on temples in the northern city of Jammu and western city of Gandhinagar last year, Hyderabad police carried out a survey of the city's main temples.

They said they had found the rear entrance of the Birla temple particularly vulnerable and were in the process of deploying guards there.

See also:

26 Dec 02 | South Asia
01 Dec 02 | South Asia
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25 Nov 02 | South Asia
30 Sep 02 | South Asia
28 Sep 02 | From Our Own Correspondent
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