- Associated Press - Thursday, September 30, 2010

LUCKNOW, India (AP) — An Indian court ruled Thursday that a disputed holy site that has sparked bloody communal riots across the country in the past should be divided between the Hindu and Muslim communities.

However, the court gave the Hindu community control over the section where the now demolished Babri Mosque stood and where a small makeshift tent-shrine to the Hindu god Rama rests.

While both Muslim and Hindu lawyers vowed to appeal to the Supreme Court, the compromise ruling seemed unlikely to set off a new round of violence, as the government had feared.

Muslims revere the compound in Ayodhya as the former site of the 16th century mosque, while Hindus say it is the birthplace of Rama and contend that a temple to the god stood on the site before the mosque.

The Allahabad High Court ruled that the 64-acre site should be split, with the Muslim community getting control of one-third and two Hindu groups splitting the remainder. The Hindus will keep the area where the mosque once stood, according to the court judgment.

The court said archaeological evidence showed a temple had predated the mosque.

“The majority ruled that the location of the makeshift temple is the birthplace of Rama, and this spot cannot be shifted,” said Ravi Shankar Prasad, a lawyer for one of the Hindu groups who sued.

The court also ruled that the current status of the site should continue for the next three months to allow for the land to be peacefully measured and divided.

Zaffaryab Jilani, a lawyer for the Muslim community, said he would appeal the verdict, which could delay a final decision in the 60-year-old case for years.

“It’s not a victory or defeat for any party. It’s a step forward. We hope this matter will be resolved,” he said.

H.S. Jain, one of the Hindu plaintiffs, said he also would appeal. “100 percent of the land belongs to Hindus. Why split it?” he said.

The conflict over the compound in Ayodhya, 350 miles east of New Delhi, has sparked violence between Hindus and Muslims that killed thousands of people and challenged India’s ethos as a secular, multicultural democracy.

The government and the parties to the dispute had appealed for calm in the wake of the verdict. Leaving nothing to chance, the government flooded the streets with troops.

Police arrested more than 10,000 people to prevent them from inciting violence, while another 100,000 had to sign affidavits saying they would not cause trouble after the verdict, a top official said.

Helicopters hovered over holy sites in the state as people entering temples were checked with metal detectors, police said.

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