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Wednesday, 13 March, 2002, 16:56 GMT
Ayodhya ceremony 'to go ahead'
Indian paramilitary soldier in Ayodhya
Ayodhya itself has been all but sealed off
Hindu nationalists at the centre of a dispute over the holy site of Ayodhya in northern India have vowed to hold a symbolic ceremony despite a Supreme Court ban on religious activity.

So the government of India has to again think if it can give us the land which is undisputed

VHP General Secretary Ashok Singhal

The hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) organisation said after an emergency meeting that it would still hold a "peaceful" ceremony, as planned, on Friday.

The three-judge Supreme Court panel earlier upheld the court's 1994 decision banning religious ceremonies near the disputed site until several legal cases were settled.

Muslims have opposed the ceremony because they fear it will pave the way for the building of a temple where the Babri mosque was razed by Hindu zealots in 1992.

The Indian Government has launched a huge security operation around Ayodhya, which has been all but sealed off ahead of the VHP's Friday deadline.

Disputed land

The Supreme Court stated that "no religious activity of any kind either symbolic or actual" would be allowed on the 67-acre site, which is controlled by the government.

But VHP General Secretary Ashok Singhal said in Ayodhya that a symbolic ceremony could still be held on what he described as land not covered by the court ruling.

Hindu volunteers chant Hail Lord Ram in Ayodhya
Hindu activists say Friday's ceremony will be peaceful

"So the government of India has to again think if it can give us the land which is undisputed," Mr Singhal was quoted by the AFP news agency as saying.

He said they would be able to take a pillar to a location in Ayodhya not ruled out by the court verdict.

It was not immediately clear exactly where this ceremony would take place.

But VHP spokesman Praveen Togadia said in Delhi that holy men would decide the future programme for Ayodhya at a meeting on Thursday.

Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee is struggling to find a legal solution to the crisis as fears rise of a repeat of the nationwide communal slaughter that followed the destruction of the mosque 10 years ago.

Mr Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BHP) has close links with the VHP, but is coming under increasing pressure from secular allies in the ruling coalition.

The court ruling rejected a last-minute government plea to allow a symbolic ceremony in Ayodhya to avoid violence.

The VHP has accepted court rulings barring religious activity from the site of the mosque itself, but has been campaigning hard for permission to use adjacent land.

The court has asked the government to maintain the status quo at the site until it takes up the petition for a detailed hearing in July.

Security alert

Long-running tensions over Ayodhya erupted into violence in February when 58 Hindu activists were attacked by Muslims in Gujarat state while travelling by train back from the site.

Paramhans Ramchandra Das, leader of the committee to build a temple in Ayodhya
The Hindus said they would go ahead with the ceremony regardless

More than 700 people died following the incident, largely in revenge attacks by Hindus against Muslims.

Some 10,000 police and paramilitary troops have fanned out around Ayhodhya and Uttar Pradesh state in an attempt to prevent activists from converging on the site.

"The army has been alerted, but there might not be a need to call them in," state security official Naresh Dayal told AFP.

The BBC's Adam Mynott said that Ayodhya appeared calm, although many Hindus were said to be on their way to the town from across India.

In their ruling, the Supreme Court judges said that owing to the tense situation in the country over Ayodhya, it would be unwise to allow any alteration in the status quo.

Ruling welcomed

An MP for the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena Party, Sanjay Nirupam, described the court verdict as being against the rights of the Hindus to offer prayers at a religious site.

The army has been alerted, but there might not be a need to call them in

Uttar Pradesh security official Naresh Dayal

But the move was praised by Muslim leaders, as well as most opposition parties and some of the BJP government's partners.

On the streets of Delhi, there was a mixed reception for the ruling.

Shweta, a local college student, said the court order would hopefully end the dispute.

But shop owner Siddharth Kumar said religous tensions continued to make ordinary people suffer.

"I don't think that a court order can actually stop these religious groups from doing what they want," he said.

The BBC's Jill McGivering
"Violence is never far from the surface"
See also:

07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
Country profile: India
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