NEW DELHI, India -- Muslim leaders on Thursday rejected a compromise plan aimed at preventing Hindu hard-liners from immediately starting construction of a temple on a site held holy by both religions.
The compromise was hastily put forward this week amid fears that religious violence could erupt if the militant World Hindu Council launches construction in the northern city of Ayodhya on March 15, as it intends.
Hindu nationalists want to build to temple on the site of a 16th-century mosque destroyed by Hindus in 1992. The razing of the mosque sparked riots that left 2,000 dead; tensions over the temple plan erupted into violence in the western state of Gujarat last week that killed more than 600 people.
Under the compromise, the World Hindu Council would symbolically begin construction on March 15 by bringing the temple's first pillars on a spot adjacent to the disputed site, which is owned by the government. There are no conflicting claims on it.
The council would also agree to abide by whatever India's Supreme Court rules concerning the fate of the disputed land. The council said Tuesday that it would abide by any court decision, but its vice president, Girigraj Kishore, appeared to back off that promise.
''There is no question of giving an undertaking that we will accept the court verdict.'' Kishore said Wednesday.
The compromise was devised by Jayandra Saraswathi, Hinduism's high priest or shankaracharya. He is not a member of the World Hindu Council, which is known by its Hindi initials VHP.
The All India Muslim Personal Law Board said Thursday it does not want the pillars brought to the adjacent land.
''The government should stop VHP from going ahead with its plan,'' the board's convener, S.Q.R. Illyas, was quoted as saying by the Press Trust of India news agency.
Illyas said the Muslim board will petition the Supreme Court if the government does not stop the World Hindu Council, the news agency said. The court has earlier said that the land the government acquired around the disputed site should not be given to either side until the case is settled.
Hindus believe that their principal god, Rama, was born on the exact spot where the demolished mosque, built by the 16th century Muslim conqueror Babar, stood in Ayodhya, 345 miles east of New Delhi. Muslim leaders want the mosque rebuilt.
Hundreds of policemen now guard the area to keep away both parties until the Supreme Court straightens out the land title claims.
The mosque-temple dispute has exacerbated historic Hindu-Muslim animosity. Last week's Gujarat violence started after a Muslim mob set fire to a train coach filled with Hindu activists returning from Ayodhya, killing 58. The subsequent retaliation left about 550 people dead, mostly Muslims.
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