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Tuesday, 5 March, 2002, 16:10 GMT
Hindu hardliners 'agree compromise'
The Shankaracharya holding talks with Muslim leaders in Delhi
There are hopes that the intervention of Mr Saraswati will avert further violence
One of India's top Hindu religious leaders, who is mediating with the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), says the group is ready for a compromise to defuse religious tensions in the country.

The VHP has given a written assurance that it will wait for the court order on the disputed portion of land, while seeking an undisputed portion from the government

Jayendra Saraswati

The leaders of the VHP have agreed to put on hold their plans to begin construction of a Hindu temple at a disputed site in the northern town of Ayodhya by three months, according to the Shankaracharya of Kanchi, Jayendra Saraswati.

The group, which is campaigning to build the temple on the ruins of a mosque, has also agreed to abide by the judgement of the Supreme Court on the ownership of the disputed site in a major departure from their erstwhile stand.

But the compromise comes with a series of conditions.

The VHP says it wants the government to handover a piece of land next to the disputed area so that it could go-ahead with its temple construction plans, the mediator says.

Until now, the VHP has insisted it would press ahead with plans to build the temple in Ayodhya despite the recent Hindu-Muslim violence in the western state of Gujarat which killed at least 500 people.

Meanwhile, the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, has angrily denied to the BBC that his government failed to do enough to stop widespread violence during the past week.

Hopes of agreement

The Shankaracharya, who has emerged as the chief mediator in the crisis, has been meeting the Prime Minister, Atal Behari Vajpayee, and senior VHP leaders in Delhi.

A Muslim man cries during a peace meeting in Ahmedabad
Most of those killed were Muslims

Mr Saraswati told the AFP news agency the government seemed "inclined" to accept the compromise offer.

But it would first have to discuss the issue with opposition parties, he said.

The talks in Delhi came as security forces restored an uneasy calm in Gujarat after days of Hindu-Muslim violence.

Both the federal government the Gujarat State Government have been strongly criticised for being slow in bringing the violence under control.

But in an interview with the BBC the Chief Minister of Gujarat, Narendra Modi, described the Gujarat Government's response as a success story.

Allegations denied

Mr Modi said that he was not happy about what had happened in Gujarat but he was happy about the response of the authorities.

Muslim children taking refuge in a mosque
The riots have left hundreds uprooted

He defended the police saying they had done excellent work.

The situation had been brought under control within 72 hours he said and 90% of the state had remained peaceful.

He also promised government compensation for the families of the dead.

Uneasy calm

Tensions have been building since the VHP announced plans to construct the temple in Ayodhya, where militant Hindus tore down a mosque in 1992.

It flared up last Wednesday when 60 Hindu activists were killed in an attack on a train in Gujarat.

A cycle of retaliatory bloodshed followed soon after.

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

Mr Vajpayee, whose Bharatiya Janata Party has close links with the VHP, has been struggling to persuade the hardliners to postpone its campaign to build a new temple.

The BBC's Adam Mynott
"The death toll continues to rise as police discover more bodies"
Chief Minister of Gujarat Narendra Modi
"The police have done excellent work"
Human rights activist Hanif Lakdawala
"People lost faith in the police"
See also:

04 Mar 02 | South Asia
Hindu hardliners firm on temple plan
03 Mar 02 | South Asia
India violence 'under control'
02 Mar 02 | South Asia
Ravaged Ahmedabad limps back to life
01 Mar 02 | Media reports
Indian press shocked by bloodshed
14 Feb 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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