Thousands of police patrol northern India as verdict over control of holy site looms

By Biswajeet Banerjee, AP
Thursday, September 30, 2010

India braces for violence amid holy site verdict

LUCKNOW, India — India sent hundreds of thousands of troops into the streets Thursday as it braced for a potential eruption of violence ahead of a court decision on whether Hindus or Muslims should control a disputed holy site.

The conflict over the compound in the town of Ayodhya, 350 miles (550 kilometers) east of New Delhi, has sparked communal riots that killed thousands of people and challenged India’s ethos as a secular, multicultural democracy.

Hoping to prevent a new round of violence when the court issues its verdict Thursday afternoon in the 60-year-old case over who rightfully controls the site, the government flooded the streets with troops.

Police arrested more than 10,000 people to prevent them from inciting violence, while another 100,000 had to sign affidavits saying they would not cause trouble after the verdict, a top official said.

Helicopters hovered over holy sites in the state as people entering temples were checked with metal detectors, police said.

“We have deployed around 200,000 security personnel at sensitive places to prevent any violence post the Ayodhya verdict,” top state official Shashank Shekhar Singh said.

The 16th-century Babri Mosque in Ayodhya was razed by Hindu hard-liners in 1992, setting off nationwide riots that killed 2,000 people. Hindus say the mosque, built in 1528 by the Mughal emperor Babur, was erected at the birthplace of their god, Rama.

Hindus want to build a temple to Rama there, while Muslims want to rebuild the mosque.

The verdict in the explosive case comes as thousands of foreign athletes poured into New Delhi ahead of the Commonwealth Games, which start Sunday, and Indian officials have appealed for calm.

“There should be no attempt whatsoever made by any section of the people to provoke any other section or to indulge in any expression of emotion that would hurt the feelings of other people,” Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said in an ad published in Indian newspapers Wednesday.

An umbrella group of broadcasters has asked TV stations not to inflame emotions by showing images of the destruction of the mosque.

The government extended its ban on bulk texting to stop people from sending mass messages that could incite violence.

The High Court in the state of Uttar Pradesh was locked down ahead of the verdict and only those directly involved in the case will be allowed inside. Personal security for the three judges who will decide the case was beefed up in advance of the ruling.

More than 40,000 police fanned out across the city of Mumbai, which had erupted in anti-Muslim riots and retaliatory bombings after the Babri Mosque demolition, but played host to scattered peace marches in recent days. Still, many schools were closed Thursday and many businesses planned to close early.

In Hyderabad, capital of the southern Andhra Pradesh state, authorities deployed more than 20,000 additional police. Some 460 arrests to stop possible violence were made, said police chief Abdul K. Khan.

Orders were posted banning the gathering of more than five people in the city, and liquor shops were closed and religious processions and meetings barred, said Khan.

In the southeastern state of Pondicherry, police issued a one-week ban on rallies, public gatherings and the use of firecrackers.

The parties to the dispute have also appealed for calm, since the loser in the case will almost certainly appeal to the Supreme Court, meaning a final decision could still be years away.

India’s Home Minister Palaniappan Chidambaram said India was now different from where it was in the 1990s, with a new generation more interested in economic advancement than communal divisions.

Associated Press writers Erika Kinetz in Mumbai and Nirmala George in New Delhi contributed to this report.

will not be displayed