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India: Tension as Hindu nationalists gather near disputed sacred site

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More than 900 extra police officers have been stationed in Ayodhya town

AYODHYA, INDIA: Amid heavy security, tens of thousands of monks and activists from Hindu nationalist groups began converging on the Indian town of Ayodhya yesterday to demand the construction of a temple on a disputed religious site.

More than 200,000 people are expected near the site in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh.

It is where a Hindu mob in 1992 pulled down a 16th-century mosque, sparking deadly religious riots that killed some 2,000 people in one of India's worst bouts of communal violence since the partition in 1947.

More than 900 extra police officers and a large number of paramilitary, including elite commandos, have been stationed at Ayodhya, said spokesman for the Uttar Pradesh police Vivek Tripathi.

"We're monitoring the entire town with closed-circuit television and drone cameras."

In the run-up to a general election due by May next year, Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and many Hindu outfits affiliated with the BJP have ratcheted up their demand for a new temple at the disputed site, which most Hindus believe was the birthplace of deity Ram.

Hindu groups point to evidence there was a temple there before a mosque was built by a Muslim ruler in 1528.

"The mosque was a slight on Hindus, and it is a shame that we've failed to build a temple on one of the most holy sites for Hindus," said Mr Sharad Sharma, spokesman for the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), which has close ties with the BJP.

IMPATIENT

Hindus are getting impatient and the time has come to build a grand temple for Lord Ram, Mr Sharma said.

The group gathering yesterday will urge the government to introduce legislation to pave the way for a temple, said elected BJP council member Bablue Khan in Ayodhya.

Both Hindu and Muslim groups have petitioned India's Supreme Court to help resolve the issue. The court has sought more time to give its verdict.

Mr Sharma said the delay has disappointed India's majority Hindu community.

Both the BJP and VHP and their parent movement, the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh, have asked the government to issue an executive order to build a temple and bypass the Supreme Court. - REUTERS

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