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Indian Court Orders Holy Site Divided Between Hindus, Muslims

Indian security personnel stand guard as an elderly man walks past on September 29, 2010 in Ayodhya, on the eve of a court ruling that divided a long-contested holy site in the city between Hindus and Muslims (AFP).

Indian judges have ruled Hindus and Muslims will divide the site at the heart of a religious property dispute. Their verdict has been awaited for decades and is seen as a symbolic watershed in India's broader history of Hindu-Muslim tension.

Indian leaders are calling for peace and unity after a high court in the state of Uttar Pradesh issued what some are calling a victory for both Hindus and Muslims.

The court ruled a long-disputed holy site in the city of Ayodhya is to be divided between the two faith groups, with two thirds of the property to be administered by Hindus, and one third to be in the possession of Muslims.

Hindu groups successfully convinced judges of the importance of the site to members of their faith, who believe the area is the birthplace of the Hindu god Lord Rama, one of their most revered deities. The Baburi Mosque stood on the spot for hundreds of years before a Hindu mob destroyed it in 1992. That sparked violence around the country that killed more than 2,000 people, mainly Muslims.

A lawyer representing Muslim plaintiffs in the case, Zafaryab Jilanni, says the verdict is a step towards unity. He said the judgment indicates that Muslims and Hindus must coexist in India.

A lawyer for Hindu litigants, Ravi Shankar Prasad, called for Muslims and Hindus to view the verdict positively. "I would appeal to them in all humility, please accept this verdict ... it will lead to new amity, new brotherhood and a resurgent India," he said.

Hindu-Muslim resentment historically has been one of the greatest strains on India's social fabric. As the verdict approached, the government dispatched nearly 200,000 security personnel to prevent renewed violence. Major Indian media outlets agreed to a range of mandatory and voluntary restraints on coverage to avoid inciting emotion. The mass distribution of mobile text messages also was curtailed.

Several parties on both sides of the dispute have said they will appeal the decision to the Indian Supreme Court. That is expected to further delay the Ayodhya case, which has been in the court system for 60 years.