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Security tightened as Bharat marks razing of mosque

LUCKNOW, India, Dec 6 (Reuters) - Security was tightened across India on Thursday on the anniversary of the destruction nine years ago of a 16th century mosque which triggered bloody riots.

Authorities in the ancient northern town of Ayodhya, where the Babri mosque was brought down by Hindu zealots, banned any demonstrations around the site sacred to both Muslims and Hindus, and deployed extra police.

Shops owned by Muslims were closed in Ayodhya to mark what community leaders said was a "black day," on which some 3,000 people died in religious riots across India after the mosque was razed in 1992.

The holy town was closed to visitors, witnesses and officials said.

"Ayodhya has been turned into a cantonment," said Hazi Mohammad Hashim who is one of the petitioners in the decades-old legal dispute over the place of worship.

"At least 1,200 additional armed personnel have been deployed in and around the temple town to keep a strict vigil and to prevent any untoward incident," police chief of the northern state of Uttar Pradesh, R.K. Pandit, told Reuters.

Supporters of a regional group burnt effigies of Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee and Home Minister Lal Krishna Advani in the communist-ruled state of West Bengal for failing to control hardline Hindu groups.

Opposition groups accuse Vajpayee's Bharatiya Janata Party, which leads the federal coalition, of a deep-seated bias against the country's minority Muslims.

The BJP denies the allegation, but says it is against appeasement of any community.

Police in New Delhi were also placed on alert to prevent any incidents, an officer said.

Both houses of the Indian parliament were suspended for the day because of deep divisions over the issue, after noisy deputies in the lower house defied the speaker's call for order.

The Press Trust of India said riot police and dog squads had been deployed in several parts of the country.

"December 6 becomes a major source of tension for all of us essentially because of politicians, the administration and of course the media," said Shitla Singh, editor of "Jan Morcha" a newspaper in Ayodhya.

COMMUNITIES SPLIT

Hindu groups, who believe Ayodhya to be the birthplace of god-king Rama, have been campaigning for the construction of a temple at the spot where the mosque stood.

Hindu hardliners have said they will begin building the temple if the dispute, which has been tied up in the courts for four decades, is not resolved by early March.

In October, activists from the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) forced their way into a makeshift temple at the site to hold a prayer ceremony.

Police later evicted them and the federal government criticised the lack of security at the shrine.

05:27 12-06-01

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