India braces for Supreme Court verdict on Ayodhya temple dispute

Tight security measures imposed ahead of decision on site claimed by Muslims and Hindus

Police officers conduct a flag march in a street outside Jama Masjid, before Supreme Court's verdict on a disputed religious site claimed by both majority Hindus and Muslim in Ayodhya, in the old quarters of Delhi, India, November 9, 2019. REUTERS/Adnan Abidi
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India's security forces were on high alert ahead of the Supreme Court's verdict on Saturday in a decades-old land title dispute between Muslims and Hindus over plans to build a Hindu temple on a site where Hindu hardliners demolished a 16th-century mosque in 1992, sparking deadly religious riots.

Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a series of tweets appealed for peace ahead of the verdict. He had earlier cautioned his council of ministers from making unnecessary statements on the issue that could stoke public sentiments.

Appeals for peace have also come from Hindu and Muslim organisations and various political leaders. India's home ministry has asked all states to be on alert.

Authorities increased security in Ayodhya, 550 kilometres east of New Delhi, and deployed more than 5,000 paramilitary forces to prevent any attacks by Hindu activists on Muslims, who comprise 6 per cent of the town's more than 55,500 people.

Earlier, authorities banned the assembly of more than four people at one place in and around Ayodhya, a town in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh.

The town looked deserted with authorities turning back thousands of Hindu pilgrims who were congregating for a religious event on Tuesday.

Security forces established a strong presence around the disputed site and were not allowing anyone to visit the area, said Uttar Pradesh state government spokesman Awanish Awasthi.

People traveling in cars and buses to Ayodhya were being thoroughly checked at security barriers. Commandos took up positions in bunkers across the town.

Police have arrested nearly 500 people for posting provocative messages on social media in the state. Police also have detained 5,000 people with criminal backgrounds across the state to prevent them from creating trouble after the court verdict, Mr Awasthi said.

Authorities stopped the entry of people into the state through land border from Nepal.

The Uttar Pradesh government ordered all the schools and colleges to remain closed until Monday.

The destruction of the mosque in 1992 sparked massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left 2,000 people dead.

Hindu hardliners say they want to build a new temple to the Hindu god Ram on the site, which they revere as his birthplace. They say the mosque was built after a temple dedicated to the Hindu god was destroyed by Muslim invaders.

After the demolition of the mosque, Hindus and Muslims took the issue to a lower court, which in 2010 ruled that the disputed land should be divided into three parts – two for Hindus and one for Muslims.

That was challenged in the Supreme Court by the two communities represented by Hindu Maha Sabha, the Sunni Waqf Board, and the Nirmohi Akhara.

The five judges started daily proceedings in August after mediation failed to find a compromise.

Mr Modi had promised to build the temple in 2014 elections that brought him to power. But he later decided to wait for the court verdict despite pressure from millions of Hindu hardliners who asked his government to bring legislation to build the temple.