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Monday, 4 March, 2002, 15:35 GMT
Hindu hardliners firm on temple plan
Soldier watches over a Hindu woman during curfew in Ahmedabad
Soldiers have discovered more bodies in remote parts
A hardline Hindu group says it will continue with plans to build a temple at a disputed site in India - despite the deaths of at least 500 people in communal violence in the western state of Gujarat.


The programme will never be called off

VHP President, Ashok Singhal

The decision to start the construction at the site in Ayodhya from 15 March was taken at a meeting of the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) in Delhi.

"We will begin moving the pillars to the site from 15 March", said VHP leader, Param Hans Ramchandra Das.

Tensions between Hindus and Muslims have been building since the VHP announced plans to construct a temple on the ruins of a mosque destroyed by militant Hindus in 1992.

It flared into violence last Wednesday when Muslims attacked a train in the town of Godhra in Gujarat, killing nearly 60 Hindu activists.

Violence continues

More deaths were reported in Gujarat as Hindus carried out revenge attacks on Muslim communities.

The state authorities say a further 15 people were killed early on Monday when the curfew was lifted in some areas of the state.

Woman and child in Ahmedabad
Many Muslims are afraid to leave their homes
Two people were also killed when police opened fire on a mob in the Palampur area, 250 km from Ahmedabad.

Nearly 500 people have been killed in rioting in the past five days.

A state home ministry official said more than 700 others had been injured.

More than 2,850 people have been arrested, according to the police.

But there are fears that the actual death toll could be much higher.

Many Muslims are now without homes or businesss, destroyed by Hindu mobs.

The BBC's Adam Mynott in Ahmedabad - Gujarat's biggest city - says some 4,500 are sheltering in one of the city's mosques, afraid to leave.

He says they have received little food or water and scant medical help, despite suffering appalling injuries.

Temple plans

The attacks have embarrassed India's main governing Bharatiya Janata Party which has close links with the VHP.

Religious divide
Hindus: 81% of Indian population
Muslims: 12%
1992: Hindu groups destroy mosque in Ayodhya
2,000 killed in subsequent riots
Feb 2002: Hindus travelling back from Ayodhya attacked by Muslims
Backlash leaves about 500 dead
But the VHP is adamant about going ahead with the campaign and some analysts said this could cause difficulties for the central government.

The VHP had earlier rejected an appeal by the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, to suspend its campaign in the wake of the Gujarat riots.

The presence of large numbers of police and soldiers in Gujarat appears to have stopped the frenzy of killing, but there are still isolated cases of brutality where security forces have not been deployed.

Curfew

Home Minister LK Advani, who is visiting riot areas, has condemned the bloodshed as "a black spot" on India.

But he has also said he suspected the work of a "foreign hand" in the train attack which sparked the violence.
Locator map
Soldiers have discovered more bodies in remote parts

The authorities have imposed curfews and restricted news broadcasts to try to defuse the situation.

Schools remained closed and Muslims were still too frightened to leave their homes or return to those they fled.

The central government has been strongly criticised for not sending in the army sooner to help bring the violence under control.

 WATCH/LISTEN
 ON THIS STORY
Naresh Dayal, Gujarat state home secretary
"Apart from sporadic violence...the state is quite peaceful at the moment"
Praveen Togadiya, VHP secretary general
"Our democratic right to have a religious ceremony has been jeopardised by the government"
The BBC's Matt Frei
"The potential for tragedy is as vast as the country itself"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | South Asia
Eyewitness: Muslims under siege
03 Mar 02 | South Asia
India violence 'under control'
02 Mar 02 | South Asia
Ravaged Ahmedabad limps back to life
01 Mar 02 | South Asia
In pictures: Troops in Gujarat
01 Mar 02 | Media reports
Indian press shocked by bloodshed
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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