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India police battle rock-throwing Hindus
( 2003-10-17 14:09) (Agencies)

Police fired tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse hundreds of stone-throwing Hindu militants trying to hold a banned gathering Friday in this temple town at the heart of decades of religious violence in India.

The fighting lasted for a half hour, then police took away the Hindu nationalists in buses. Police were not sure how many were arrested, but said it was probably more than 600.

One Hindu mendicant, called a sadhu, stood near the area addressing the gathering. "Now is the time for all Hindus to stand up together," he said. "Every Hindu should make a bomb in his home."

The angry crowd part of a movement which demands the right to build a temple to the chief Hindu gad, Rama, at the site of the destroyed 16th century mosque also wielded metal rods.

Ayodhya, 300 miles east of New Delhi, has become a religious flashpoint since thousands of Hindu activists in 1992 razed the Babri Mosque spades, crowbars and bare hands. That triggered a year of Hindu-Muslim violence that killed 2,000 people across India.

Hindu hard-liners believe the Babri mosque was built by Muslims on the site of an earlier Hindu temple honoring their supreme god, Rama. Muslims say there's no proof of that and oppose Hindu plans to build a temple there.

"You see this is what they do in the name of God," said V.K. Agarwal, deputy inspector-general of police in Faizabad, the nearest large town to Ayodhya.

The clash occurred near a residential area called Karsavekpuram "Volunteers' Village," where Hindu artisans gather from across the country to lend their stone-carving and brick-making skills to the effort to prepare the structure for the temple the groups intend to build at the disputed site.

The town was otherwise quiet and there was no trouble Friday morning near the actual disputed site, a closely guarded hillock surrounded by wire fences, guarding a small Rama idol under a tent.

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