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India Increases Security in Ayodhya - 2003-10-16

Indian police are increasing security in the northern city of Ayodhya, where controversy surrounding the site of a razed mosque repeatedly has led to violence between Muslims and Hindus. Tens of thousands of Hindu activists are expected to march Friday, in defiance of local authorities, who have forbidden any rallies.

Authorities say an estimated 10,000 security personnel have encircled Ayodhya, to prevent Hindu activists from entering the city.

Police are guarding some activists in camps outside the city's outskirts. They are also using schools to detain some of the 17,000 people arrested for trying to get into the city since Saturday.

Trains and buses to Ayodhya also have been canceled or diverted. But the World Hindu Council, or VHP, says 300,000 activists will attend a rally in Ayodhya, as part of their campaign to build a temple on a disputed holy site.

Authorities in the state of Uttar Pradesh have banned any rallies or religious services from taking place in Ayodhya. But VHP leaders have repeatedly warned of violence, if the group is not allowed to march.

VHP official Mohan Joshi spoke at a rally held in the capital Wednesday.

"We have no intention to do any disturbance of peace," he said. "But if the ruling party of Uttar Pradesh, if they plan any mischief [and] the crowd does anything, we are not responsible for that."

The decades-old controversy surrounding the holy site in Ayodhya is one of the most divisive between India's majority Hindus and minority Muslims.

In 1992, Hindu mobs tore down the 16th century Barbri Mosque in Ayodhya, which they say had been built on the site of an earlier temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Rama. Two thousand people died in ensuing riots.

A court case intended to settle the dispute between the two groups is currently underway. The controversy reaches into the highest levels of India's coalition government, as politicians juggle human rights issues with popular sentiment ahead of next year's parliamentary election.