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Last Updated:  Wednesday, 5 March, 2003, 16:21 GMT
Ayodhya site 'to be dug up'
Indian soldier guards Hindu holy man in Delhi
Hindu hardliners want to build a temple in Ayodhya
A court in India has ordered the excavation of a holy site disputed between Hindus and Muslims.

The site, in the northern city of Ayodhya, houses the remains of a 16th Century mosque destroyed by a Hindu mob 10 years ago.

Hardline Hindus say that the mosque was built on the ruins of a temple which marked the birthplace of the Hindu God Ram.

The destruction of the mosque on 6 December 1992 sparked off religious riots across India in which more than 2,000 people died.

On Thursday, India's Supreme Court is to rule whether religious activities can take place around the disputed site.

It had earlier banned such activity to avoid raising tensions between Hindus and Muslims.

'Prayers to continue'

On Wednesday, a court in the city of Lucknow ordered the Archaeological Survey of India to begin excavating the site within a week to determine if a temple or any other structure existed there.

Babri mosque before demolition
India's supreme court is to rule on the site on Thursday

But, the court said, no digging should take place on the core area, which now houses a makeshift Hindu temple.

It also said that the exercise should not disrupt Hindu devotees from praying at the site, which is now allowed at restricted times.

A leader of the right-wing Hindu organisation, Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), Vishnu Hari Dalmiya said the organisation did not have any problems with the court's decision.

Mr Dalmiya added that his colleagues had dug in the area and found the remnants of a temple and that the Archeological Survey of India would also find these.

A former director general of the Archaeological Survey of India, MC Joshi, told the BBC the chances of finding the temple of the Hindu God Ram are not high.

"We will tell the court whatever we get after a month of excavations," he said.

Disprove

The court has ordered the ASI to begin excavating the site within a week to determine if a temple or any other structure existed there.

A senior Muslim leader, Zaffar Yab Jilani, who was associated with this case, said the order would help to disprove the theory that a temple existed on the site.

He said the VHP was claiming there had been an 84-pillared temple at the site. If the excavation did not find such a structure, the VHP's claim would be disproved.

Meanwhile, a spokesman for the main opposition Congress party Jaipal Reddy said the court's verdict should be respected.

The court has asked for the excavation to be completed in a month and for a report of the findings submitted to it.

Hardline Hindu organisations with close ties to India's ruling Bharatiya Janata Party have been pushing for a part of the site to be handed over to them so that they can begin building a temple.




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