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Friday, 15 March, 2002, 15:16 GMT
Ayodhya Hindus march peacefully
Indian paramilitary forces
Ayodhya was sealed off by security forces
Hardline Hindus in India have held a peaceful ceremony in Ayodhya, as a massive security operation largely forestalled a feared eruption in religious violence.


The acceptance of the stones by the authorities in Ayodhya today means that the process of establishing the temple here has begun

VHP General Secretary Praveen Togadia

Up to 3,000 people - fewer than expected - marched towards the disputed area where Hindu zealots tore down the 16th century Babri mosque in 1992.

Chanting "Lord Ram, we are coming", the Hindu activists handed the two pieces of stone - part of a temple they want to build on the site - to a local civic leader.

But the ritual, which passed off without incident, was held outside the disputed area from which all religious activity was barred by a Supreme Court order on Wednesday.

But authorities took no chances, arresting at least 35,000 people across the country to prevent any renewed outbreaks of Hindu-Muslim violence.

Relief

The BBC's Jyotsna Singh says there was a sense of relief in government circles that violence was avoided.

Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das, leader of the committee to build a temple in Ayodhya
Hindu leaders have scaled down their plans

Security was heaviest in Ayodhya itself, where police and paramilitary patrols enforced the court ruling barring hardliners from holding prayers near the demolished mosque.

Activists of the hardline Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) did not try and break through to the site, despite earlier warnings that they would defy the ban.

The VHP initially pledged to begin construction of the temple on Friday, but leaders said the compromise ceremony was the first step.

"The acceptance of the stones by the authorities in Ayodhya today means that the process of establishing the temple here has begun," VHP General Secretary Praveen Togadia told reporters in New Delhi.

But authorities were determined to avoid a repeat of the nationwide rioting in 1992 after the destruction of the mosque that left more than 2,000 dead.

Sporadic clashes

Security forces across India have been on alert since a trainload of Hindu devotees were massacred last month by a Muslim mob.


Graphic showing Ayodhya site
  • 1. Proposed Ram temple
  • 2. Site where VHP placed symbolic pillar
  • 3. Site of demolished mosque

      Click here to read more about the disputed site

  • More than 700 people died in communal violence in Gujarat after that incident, most of them Muslims killed in revenge attacks.

    Although Friday was mostly calm across India, there were sporadic clashes in Gujarat, where authorities imposed a curfew after a Muslim youth was killed.

    Six people were also injured.

    The largest number of arrests - 19,000 - were made in the central state of Madhya Pradesh.

    And nearly 10,000 were picked up in Bombay, which was the centre of communal violence in 1992.

    Authorities even banned cell phone text messaging to prevent rumour-mongering.

    Hardliner 'climbdown'

    In Ayodhya on Friday, the streets were reported to be deserted, with no one able to move.

    Security forces all but sealed the town off, stationing police at every street corner and armed officers on rooftops.

    The Hindu religious leader who threatened to go ahead with the controversial religious ceremony on the disputed site changed his plan.

    Mahant Paramhans Ramchandra Das said he would simply hand over a carved pillar to a local government official outside the disputed site.

    "I have no intention of putting my foot on the acquired land," he said. "Whatever I do, it will be done peacefully."

    He had earlier threatened to kill himself if he was not allowed to consecrate the new temple, which many Hindus believe marks the birthplace of the Hindu god-king Rama.

     WATCH/LISTEN
     ON THIS STORY
    The BBC's Jill McGivering:
    "Police couldn't stop local people showing their support."
    Ayodhya special report

    Ayodhya eyewitness

    Background issues

    Pictures and images

    TALKING POINT

    AUDIO VIDEO

    BBC WORLD SERVICE
     VOTE RESULTS
    Should plans to build the Ayodhya temple be called off?

    Yes
     66.79% 

    No
     33.21% 

    19422 Votes Cast

    Results are indicative and may not reflect public opinion

    See also:

    15 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Hindu anger at Ayodhya
    07 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Thousands homeless in Gujarat
    06 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Traumatised victims wait for help
    07 Mar 02 | Country profiles
    Country profile: India
    14 Mar 02 | South Asia
    Ayodhya Muslims live in dread
    15 Mar 02 | South Asia
    India's secularism under threat?
    28 Feb 02 | South Asia
    Vajpayee's Ayodhya dilemma
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