Page last updated at 15:05 GMT, Friday, 2 January 2009

Riot police for Nepal temple row

Nepali priests at the Pashupatinath temple on 1 January 2008
The Supreme Court has barred the new priests from performing rituals

Riot police have been deployed at Nepal's holiest Hindu temple to stop protesters angry at the government's attempt to remove Indian priests.

Prayers at Pashupatinath temple have always been led by high caste Brahmin priests recruited from south India.

Earlier this week they were replaced by local priests - a move that ended centuries of tradition.

The move is seen as a reflection of wider changes in the past year with the former Maoist rebels coming to power.

The temple decision has led to demonstrations by Hindu groups.

"We want this decision scrapped immediately," news agency AFP quoted one priest, Hariharman Bhandari, as saying. "The Maoists have appointed their own people."

On Thursday, Nepal's Supreme Court directed the temple authorities to clarify the controversy and not to let the newly appointed Nepali priests perform the rituals.

However, the new priests visited holy sites around the Pashupatinath complex escorted by riot police and Maoist volunteers.

Outside, protesters shouted "Down with Maoists" as the priests performed ceremonies.

King's role

The temple complex sits on a sacred river on the edge of Kathmandu and rises up from the bank amid a mass of pagoda-style buildings.

For the past 250 years, the temple has recruited its priests from south Indian Brahmins.

Traditionally, the temple authorities would appoint its priests in conjunction with the king.

But the new government in Nepal is led by the Maoist party. And earlier this year, it abolished the monarchy.

This made the Maoist prime minister a patron of the temple.

Pramananda Shakya, the new head of the Pashupati Development Trust, said the reforms were necessary.

"We are trying to end the financial irregularities that take place inside the temple. That's why some people are not happy with our decisions and are protesting," he said.

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