Hindus soften stand on Ayodhya mosque

AYODHYA (AFP) - A militant Hindu group defiantly building a temple near the site of a disputed Muslim mosque here said yesterday it would continue the construction, but promised not to demolish the mosque.

The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) said it would not halt its 15- day-old drive to raise a temple for Lord Rama despite court orders. It said the judiciary should not interfere in Hindu affairs.

The statement came as India's Prime Minister, P V Narasimha Rao, went into a meeting in New Delhi with 70 Hindu holy men who flew to the capital from Ayodhya to try to thrash out a compromise formula on the row. The talks ended inconclusively, the United News of India news agency reported.

The holy men argue that the 16th-century mosque in Ayodhya was built after Mogul invaders tore down a temple to their warrior-king Lord Rama, and also say the site is the birthplace of the mythical king. India's Muslims, the country's largest religious minority, reject the argument.

'We will continue our work,' the VHP leader and Member of Parliament, Vinay Katiyar, told reporters. But Mr Katiyar, in a dramatic reversal of the VHP's known stand, declared that the thousands of Hindus engaged in the temple work would not destroy a 16th-century mosque.

'It is not a mosque, it is a temple. How can we demolish a temple?' he asked as hundreds of frenzied Hindus continued to pour into this small town to work on the proposed Rama shrine.

In New Delhi, the supreme court adjourned yesterday to give four days to the Utter Pradesh state government to find ways to stop the Hindu temple project.

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