July 6, 2005

Hindu groups rage against India holy site attack

By Sharat Pradhan

AYODHYA, India (Reuters) - Indian police fired tear gas on
Wednesday to disperse Hindu activists who blocked roads and
closed shops in dozens of cities to protest an attack on a holy
site that has been a tinderbox for Hindu-Muslim violence.

Police nationwide went on alert to prevent violence and
rioting a day after unidentified gunmen stormed the site, which
is claimed both by India's majority Hindus and its minority
Muslims, in the northern town of Ayodhya.

Hindu activists smashed windshields of cars trying to evade
a blockade in the eastern city of Ranchi. Another crowd
shattered potted plants at the airport in the central town of
Indore, delaying a departing flight.

Overall, the violence was minimal compared to the communal
conflagrations touched off by similar provocations in the past.

The protests followed Tuesday's attack by five gunmen and a
suicide bomber on a complex that houses a makeshift temple of
the Hindu God-king Ram that was built over a 16th-century
mosque torn down by a Hindu mob in 1992.

Police killed the men in a two-hour gunfight.

Indian Home Minister Shivraj Patil told reporters after
touring Ayodhya that the killing of the raiders before they
could reach the makeshift temple in the heart of the religious
complex had prevented a communal conflagration.


"If they had succeeded in their design, it would have led
to a nationwide catastrophe," a heavily guarded Patil said.

One of the bigger protests against the attack was in New
Delhi, where police fired tear gas and used water cannon to
disperse about 1,000 Hindu activists.

Some activists were armed with tridents, which have
religious symbolism in India, and wore bandannas in the Hindu
holy color of saffron. Some held placards reading: "India won't
tolerate an attack on the birthplace of Ram" or "Attack on Ram
is attack on country."

Although no group claimed responsibility for Tuesday's
attack, Hindu groups blamed Islamic militants they said were
supported by neighboring Pakistan, an old enemy and nuclear
rival which is now engaged in peace talks with India.

The attack in Ayodhya has raised fears of sectarian strife.
Hindu groups demanded that the centrist coalition of Prime
Minister Manmohan Singh call off the peace talks with
Islamabad, which on Tuesday condemned the attack.

Patil asked politicians not to fan communal passions.

"The political parties should work together toward
promoting communal harmony."


Unrelated to the latest turmoil over Ayodhya, an Indian
court directed authorities to frame charges afresh against BJP
chief Lal Krishna Advani for inciting mobs to riot and demolish
the historic mosque in 1992.

Although a lower court threw out charges against Advani in
2003 on a technicality, the Allahabad High Court said on
Wednesday that judgment was incorrect.

Advani denies any wrongdoing in the case.

Hindus claim the site in Ayodhya is the birthplace of Lord
Ram and a temple existed there before Islamic invaders
demolished it and built a mosque in its place.

The leveling of the mosque triggered violent nationwide
riots in which 3,000 people were killed -- the worst religious
clashes since the bloodletting that followed the partition of
the subcontinent and the creation of Islamic Pakistan in 1947.

While the identity of the attackers is yet to be
established, officials in Uttar Pradesh state, where Ayodhya is
located -- about 600 km (375 miles) southeast of New Delhi --
privately said five of the six men were apparently Muslims.

On Wednesday, Ayodhya was peaceful as it has largely been
since the 1992 turmoil.

The attack rattled financial markets and contributed to a
0.78 percent fall in the main Bombay stock index on Tuesday.
But investors shrugged off political risks on Wednesday,
pushing up shares in line with higher global markets.

The benchmark Bombay index rose nearly one percent to a new
closing peak.

Analysts said the attack was aimed at igniting sectarian
violence and damaging the India-Pakistan peace process launched
in 2003. "Those dark ambitions cannot be allowed to succeed,"
the Indian Express said in an editorial.

(Additional reporting by Kamil Zaheer in New Delhi)