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India tightens security ahead of verdict on contested religious site

MUMBAI: India deployed more than 5,000 troops and police in the northern town of Ayodhya and Prime Minister Narendra Modi called for calm, ahead of an expected court ruling on Saturday over control of a religious site violently disputed by Hindus and Muslims.

Authorities fear mass unrest when the Supreme Court issues its ruling over who controls the site where hardline Hindus tore down a mosque in 1992 triggering nationwide religious riots in which 2,000 people, mostly Muslims, were killed.

The Babri Mosque had stood for centuries at a site Hindus believe is the birthplace of Lord Ram. In the decades since it was razed, religious groups have fought in the courts over who should control it.

Modi’s Hindu nationalist party has campaigned on promises to build a Hindu temple there.

Read More:Top Indian politicians charged over Babri mosque demolition

“Whatever decision the Supreme Court arrives at on Ayodhya, it will not be a victory or defeat of anyone,” Modi tweeted on Friday. “I appeal to the countrymen that all of us prioritize that this decision should further strengthen India’s great traditions of peace, unity and goodwill.”

Police and home ministry officials said government agencies were making preparations to thwart any violence.

“Each and every security officer is committed to prevent minor skirmishes or large-scale riots after the court delivers its verdict,” said a senior home ministry official in New Delhi.

 “State governments have identified several schools to set up temporary jails if the need arises,” said the official, who declined to be identified.

Ayodhya is in densely populated Uttar Pradesh state, home to more than 5% of India’s 200 million Muslims.

Provincial police chief Om Prakash Singh told Reuters that precautionary measures were in place and social media platforms were being monitored to track inflammatory posts ahead of the verdict.

“We will not tolerate Hindus or Muslims publicly displaying their reaction to the court verdict,” Singh said.

Muslim clerics in the western states of Gujarat and Maharashtra called for peace meetings with Hindu leaders in communally sensitive areas ahead of Friday prayers.

Navaid Hamid, president of the All India Muslim Majlis-e-Mushawarat, the top forum for Islamic organizations, said thousands of Muslim religious leaders had vowed to maintain peace and harmony after the court verdict.

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