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India Police Disperse Hindu Protesters at Ayodhya - 2003-10-17


Police fired rubber bullets and tear gas at protesters in the Indian city of Ayodhya, on Friday. The protesters were Hindus marching to defy a ban on rallies in the city, which is the home of a holy site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims and a source of violent disputes.

Police say the trouble began early Friday when they arrested a group of Hindu activists who were marching on Ayodhya's holy site in violation of a ban on public rallies in the town. The crowd became angry and began throwing stones at police, who responded with tear-gas and rubber bullets.

The World Hindu Council, or VHP, called Friday's rally a part of their campaign to build a Hindu temple in Ayodhya at a holy site also claimed by Muslims.

Police arrested VHP leader Ashok Singhal, who called for more Hindus to take to the streets.

Mr. Singhal says people have come here to participate in a peaceful program, and if there are atrocities like the police action against them, then everyone should protest against those responsible.

State authorities banned rallies in Ayodhya because they feared violence between Hindus and Muslims over the holy site. They have good reason to worry. In 1992, riots between the two left 2,000 people dead. Those riots were sparked when Hindu mobs destroyed a centuries-old mosque in Ayodhya, which they say was built on the site of an earlier temple dedicated to the Hindu god, Rama.

More than 10 years later, the issue is still sensitive for India's majority Hindus and minority Muslims. The case is now before the courts, which will decide whether or not the VHP's campaign to build a Hindu temple is legal.

No one was injured in Friday's clash. Local media report that police have begun to release some of the 17,000 activists detained over the past six days for entering Ayodhya in defiance of the ban.

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