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Hindu Group Vows to Build Temple on Site of Mosque - 2002-03-04

The Indian state of Gujarat, which has been rocked by the country's worst sectarian strife in a decade, is mostly quiet. The death toll in five days of violence is now more than 550. But a hardline Hindu group has vowed to press ahead with plans to construct a temple on the ruins of an ancient mosque - and there are fears the program may trigger fresh clashes.

Authorities in Gujarat say the worst is over, and the state is is now calm barring some scattered violence in remote villages. In one such incident, police fired on a Hindu mob in Danta village trying to burn down homes of their muslim neighbors.

The army is still in control in most towns, and curfews are also in place.

As tempers cooled in Gujarat, attention turned to a hardline Hindu group whose plans to build a temple on a controversial site are believed to have triggered the rioting in Gujarat.

Violence erupted in Gujarat last Wednesday when a group of muslims burned 58 Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya - the distant town where Hindu nationalists want to build the temple.

On Monday, the World Hindu Council - which is spearheading the temple construction program - turned down the government's plea to postpone its plans. The Hindu hardliners want to construct on a site where a mosque once stood - but which they tore down in 1992, saying it was the birthplace of one of their gods.

The president of the World Hindu Council, Ashok Singhal, says the temple construction program will never be called off. He says people are ready to get arrested if they are stopped.

The Hindu leaders say on March 15 they will carry stone pillars that have already been fabricated for the temple to the site - and begin construction some time in the next three months.

The World Hindu Council has also demanded that the government lift restrictions that have been clamped to prevent Hindu activists from congregating in the town. Thousands of activists are already there and tens of thousands more want to participate in the temple construction program. But the government has diverted rail traffic away from the town to prevent the activists gathering in Ayodhya.

The decision comes despite pressure from Prime Minister Atal behari Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata party to defer the temple construction program. The BJP has close links to the World Hindu Council, and wants the program postponed due to fears that it may provoke more violence between Hindus and Muslims.