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Sunday, December 6, 1998 Published at 16:12 GMT

World: South Asia

Ayodhya anniversary passes peacefully

Muslim children join their parents at a protest in Bombay

The sixth anniversary of the destruction in India of the disputed Babri mosque in Ayodhya, in Uttar Pradesh, has passed off peacefully amid tight security.

Thousands of policemen were deployed in Ayodhya and the neighbouring town of Faizabad and reports say more than 500 people in Uttar Pradesh were detained, including members of a right-wing Hindu organisation, the Hindu Shiv Sena.

Correspondents said events organised by Hindu and Muslim organisations to mark the occasion were largely ignored by the local population.

More than 2,000 people died in the clashes that followed the demolition of the mosque by Hindu nationalists in 1992.

This year, the Indian Prime Minister, Atal Bihari Vajypayee, appealed for calm before the anniversary.

Appeal for calm

In a statement he said the anniversary was "a day of introspection, reconciliation and rededicating ourselves to the ideals of communal harmony and national unity".

He added: "My government is unreservedly committed to defence of secularism, which is the bedrock of our national identity and unity."

Last year's anniversary was marked by bomb attacks in the southern state of Tamil Nadu, and there too security was stepped up with many young Muslims detained.

The town of Ayodhya itself was cordoned off by armed police and the United News of India quoted officials as saying that people were prohibited from congregating anywhere in the town on Sunday.

[ image: Violence in Ayodhya sparked riots across the country]
Violence in Ayodhya sparked riots across the country
India's Supreme Court is now considering the dispute over the shrine and the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) has promised to abide by its ruling.

"I believe there is no issue or dispute which cannot be resolved satisfactorily through negotiations conducted in an atmosphere of mutual trust and understanding. This holds true for Ayodhya too," Prime Minister Vajpayee said on Saturday.

But Hindu fundamentalist leaders have vowed to continue with plans for the construction of a new temple on the site once sculptors have finished work on pillars and religious images.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad or World Hindu Council, a close affiliate of the BJP, which has led calls for the temple's construction says it does not believe the court has any authority in religious matters.

Hindu leaders say the mosque was built 400 years ago by Mogul invaders using the rubble of a Hindu shrine they tore down. Many people believe the shrine stood on the birthplace of Ram, an important Hindu deity.

A year after the mosque's destruction, India's financial capital, Bombay, was rocked by a series of bomb blasts killing some 600 people. Correspondents say Muslim extremists are suspected of being behind the retaliatory attack.

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