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Saturday, July 4, 1998 Published at 09:32 GMT 10:32 UK

World: South Asia

Tension increases over Indian temple dispute

The controversial construction of the Hindu temple at Ayodhya

The Indian Parliament is set for a stormy start on Friday over a disputed religious site in the northern town of Ayodhya.

A religious centre on a short fuse. BBC Correspondent Mike Wooldridge reports from Ayodhya.
The conflict centres around the construction of a Hindu temple on a site where a Muslim mosque was pulled down in 1992.

After the mosque was destroyed, extremists responded by rioting all over the country, and a political storm broke out.

Hindu activists who claim that the mosque had been built on the birthplace of the Hindu god, Ram, want to construct a permanent temple to Ram on the site.

[ image: Ayodhya: a religious battlefield]
Ayodhya: a religious battlefield
They are optimistic that the new Hindu nationalist-led government in Delhi will be more sympathetic than its predecessors.

Right-wing Hindus have started building their temple at the disputed site without a court ruling in their favour.

Carvings are taking place in various workshops for the eventual construction.

Hindu priest Ramchandra Paramhans who is overseeing the construction, said: "In two to three years I'll get the temple constructed - no government can stop me."

However, the Muslim organisation at the forefront of the dispute has said it will resist any attempts by Hindu activists to construct a new temple on the site.

[ image: Painting of the original Babri mosque]
Painting of the original Babri mosque
The Uttar Pradesh branch of the Babri Masjid Action Committee has as its own aim the rebuilding of a mosque on the same site to replace the one torn down by Hindu extremists.

For several years, Mohamed Hashim Ansar has been battling in court for the right of Muslims to worship on the site they dispute with the Hindus.

"Ultimately they will have to rebuild the mosque," he said. "They will be compelled to do so."

Muslim activists are now talking of seeking the intervention of the UN Secretary General.

They recently tried to visit the site but were banned from doing so because of fears of rising tension.

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