Islamic leaders air their protests

WITH the destruction of the Ayodhya mosque, the Muslim world yesterday had yet another cause to feel aggrieved on behalf of its brethren. But unlike the reaction over Bosnia and Somalia, the response of hardline states such as Iran was relatively restrained.

Ayatollah Ali Khamenei, Iran's spiritual leader, spoke of 'blatant oppression and insult' to Indian Muslims, but stopped short of calling for revenge or independent action. Instead, he looked to the New Delhi government to 'take wise and calculated measures' to 'prevent this problem becoming a complicated issue'.

The difference in approach, diplomats said, can be attributed to two factors: in the case of India, there is no Western villain to rail against; nor is there a power vacuum to take advantage of. 'Moving in on countries when there is a vacuum - that's what they're into,' said a senior diplomat. 'India is a pretty big apple for them to bite into. The Iranians are very calculating people.'

The secretary-general of the Organisation of the Islamic Conference (OIC), Hamid Algabid, criticised 'the inability of the government of India to fulfil its responsibilities' and urged New Delhi 'to ensure that the life and property of the Muslims of India is fully protected and their religious and cultural rights respected'. But he called on India's Muslims to 'exercise restraint.'

In Jeddah, Saudi Arabia denounced the destruction of the mosque and called for urgent intervention by the authorities in New Delhi. A government statement issued at the end of a cabinet meeting chaired by King Fahd also deplored the outburst of violence in India triggered by the destruction of the shrine.

Saudi Arabia 'exhorts the Indian government to urgently intervene to put an end to these acts which hurt the feelings of Muslims across the world,' the statement said.

Protesters attacked Hindu temples in eastern Afghanistan as the Kabul government condemned the mosque's destruction. Muslims attacked Hindu temples in the towns of Gardez and Khost and mistakenly attacked a Sikh temple in Jalalabad, Afghan sources in neighbouring Pakistan said. No details of the attacks were immediately available.