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Monday, 14 January, 2002, 19:03 GMT
India launches new Ayodhya initiative
The demolished Babri mosque
The dispute has divided India along communal lines
By Ram Dutt Tripathi in Lucknow

The Indian Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, has begun fresh efforts to resolve the controversy over a disputed site in the northern town of Ayodhya.

Radical Hindus want to build a temple to the god Ram on the ruins of a mosque, which they say marks his birthplace.

The demolition of the mosque nine years ago sparked communal riots in which about 2,000 people died.

Mr Vajpayee has set up an Ayodhya cell in his office and appointed a senior official, Shatrughna Singh, to hold talks with Hindu and Muslim leaders.

AB Vajpayee
Vajpayee is keen on calm before polls

Mr Singh met leaders of the Babri Masjid Action Committee in Lucknow on Sunday.

The committee is leading a campaign for rebuilding a mosque at the disputed site.

The committee, however, refuses to hold any dialogue with the Hindu hard-line group - the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP).

Political division

Its convener, Zafaryab Jillani, says no talks are possible with the VHP as it is adamant on constructing a Hindu temple at the disputed site.

Mr Jillani also rejects the possibility of a meeting with Prime Minister Vajpayee saying he favours building a temple and so is partisan.

But a colleague of Mr Vajpayee, senior State Minister, Lalji Tandon, told journalists that talks were being held with various people.

Mr Tandon says his party is in favour of building a temple at the disputed site.

Ayodhya mosque
The demolition of the mosque led to rioting

He criticised Muslim leaders for rejecting a dialogue.

Meanwhile, the VHP says it is going ahead with plans to organise a march from Ayodhya to Delhi on 21 January to press for the construction of a temple.

The group earlier rejected an appeal by the prime minister to call off the march.

The state of Uttar Pradesh, the largest in India, is currently ruled by Mr Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party.

Elections to the state legislatures scheduled for next month are expected to be dominated by the row surrounding the Ayodhya mosque.

See also:

10 Dec 01 | South Asia
Communal tension high in Kerala
06 Dec 01 | South Asia
Ayodhya anniversary raises tensions
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners' Ayodhya strategy
18 Oct 01 | South Asia
Ayodhya temple security stepped up
28 May 01 | South Asia
Bomb attack on Hindu priest
10 Apr 01 | South Asia
Minister testifies on Ayodhya attack
12 Feb 01 | South Asia
Trial for Ayodhya accused
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