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Priest sets date for temple construction at disputed site in India

INDIA: A Hindu priest said on Wednesday he would lead followers to build a Hindu temple on the ruins of a 16th-century mosque, which could violate a court order and raise religious tensions in an election year.

A Hindu mob levelled the mosque in 1992, sparking communal riots that killed about 2,000 people across India.

The site, in the northern town of Ayodhya, has been the focus of a dispute between majority Hindus and minority Muslims for many years.

Hindu groups believe the site to be the birthplace of Lord Ram, one of the religion's most revered deities.

They also say there was a temple there before the mosque was built in 1528.

The place where the Babri Mosque stood is now under court control, guarded by armed police and surrounded by walls and watchtowers.

"We'll lay the foundation stone there on Feb 21," Swami Swaroopanand Saraswati said after meeting Hindu monks and priests at Kumbh Mela in the state of Uttar Pradesh where Ayodhya is located.

But Mr Zafaryab Jilani, a secretary of the All-India Muslim Personal Law Board, said his community would not be provoked by such calls to disturb the status quo and that any attempt to breach the site would be contempt of court.

Saraswati's aides said they were ready to be arrested if their attempts are resisted.

Building the temple is a key demand of the conservative Hindu allies of Prime Minister Narendra Modi's Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and has gained fresh impetus ahead of a general election due by May. - REUTERS

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