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Indian Court Bans Ayodhya Hindu Ceremony

In India, the Supreme Court has ruled against controversial plans by Hindu hardliners to hold a religious ceremony on a site claimed by both Hindus and Muslims. The Hindu activists have called the ruling unfortunate.

A three-judge panel of the Supreme Court said no religious ceremonies should be allowed on or near a holy site in Ayodhya town where a mosque once stood, but where Hindu hardliners want to build a temple.

The mosque was torn down a decade ago by Hindu activists who say it was on the birthplace of their god Rama. The religious ceremony was scheduled to be held Friday to mark the temple construction program.

The World Hindu Council, which is spearheading the movement to build the temple, called the Supreme Court verdict a blow to India's dominant religion. The Council's general secretary Pravin Tagodia said they would build opinion about their program nationwide.

"It cannot be considered a setback but it is certainly disappointing. Because we were not expecting our religious activity will be banned anywhere" in India, Mr. Tagodia said.

A government attorney told the court a symbolic prayer ceremony should be allowed near the disputed land. But the Supreme Court rejected the government's argument due to concerns that any religious ceremony in the area could escalate a volatile situation.

India has been reeling from religious violence. The program to construct the temple triggered recent Hindu-Muslim clashes in the Western Gujarat state, killing more than 700 people.

The government said it will enforce the Supreme Court ruling. But both its allies and opposition parties are angry because it expressed support for plans by Hindu hardliners to hold a symbolic worship.

The ruling Bharatiya Janata party has close links to the Hindu hardliners leading the temple campaign.

Muslims had opposed the ceremony because of fears it may raise religious tensions in the country. A Muslim leader, Yousuf Muchala, welcomed the Supreme Court ruling. "There is no cause for jubiliation or recrimination at this stage. Let the tensions be defused and let the nation have a sigh of relief," said Mr. Muchala.

Meanwhile, the Hindu hardliners have given conflicting signals about what they intend to do on Friday. They said they will accept the court ruling, but they also say it is up to Hindu religious heads to decide whether to proceed with the religious ceremony. The activists said they are willing to be arrested if they are prevented from holding the ceremony.

Security is being tightened in Ayodhya to prevent more Hindu activists from entering the town. Hundreds have already gathered there and police and paramilitary forces are patrolling the streets.