Indian Hindus protest Afghan statue destruction

NEW DELHI - About 200 right-wing Indian Hindus burnt a copy of the Muslim holy book the Koran and tore up posters of Islamic shrines on Monday to protest against the destruction of statues by Afghanistan's ruling Taliban.

"Down with the Taliban. We will break Mecca and Medina," shouted the protesters belonging to the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP), or World Hindu Council, outside U.N. offices in the Indian capital.

The VHP protesters blocked traffic in the upmarket New Delhi neighbourhood as they danced around a burning copy of the Koran and threatened to destroy India's largest mosque, Delhi's historic Jama Masjid. Dozens of policemen looked on.

The purist Islamic Taliban have vowed to destroy all statues in Afghanistan, including two massive Buddhas in Bamiyan province, which are carved into a sandstone cliff and tower 175 feet (53 metres) and 120 feet (36.5 metres).

Though the move has sparked off international outrage and calls from around the globe for a change of heart, the Taliban have ignored all pleas to stop the destruction.

"The Taliban should be treated like rabid dogs. They are not fit for human society," a senior VHP leader, Om Prakash Singhal, told reporters just inside the heavily-barricaded U.N. office.

"America should bomb the Taliban to save the statues, like they bombed Iraq," Singhal said.

Later, a delegation of Hindu leaders including those from the VHP submitted a memorandum to the United Nations, asking it to save the historic statues.

The VHP is one of several hardline Hindu groups considered close to the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which heads the federal coalition.


In another protest in the Indian capital, more than 200 Buddhist monks demonstrated peacefully near parliament against the Taliban's move to destroy the ancient Buddha statues, hewn out at least 15 centuries ago, before the arrival of islam.

"Down with the Taliban," the monks shouted.

"It is an attack on world peace and the philosophy of truth and non-violence. It is an attack on a unique religion and culture of the world," Rinpoche Lochen Tulku, leader of the Himalayan Buddhist Cultural Association, told a gathering of monks dressed in traditional maroon robes.

The Taliban say they are carrying out an Islamic ban on images of living things -- part of their efforts to create the world's purest Muslim state.

The Taliban say they have smashed major statue collections in several parts of the country since last week, but the fate of the colossal Buddhas at Bamiyan remains unknown.

Anger is rising in predominantly Hindu India at the destruction of the historic statues in Afghanistan.

Last week, Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee wrote to leaders of 14 countries, including all five permanent members of the U.N. Security Council, asking them to do more to stop the Taliban from destroying the statues.

05:16 03-05-01

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