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India's Supreme Court on Saturday ruled in favor of a Hindu temple on a disputed religious ground in the country's north and ordered that alternative land be given to Muslims to build a mosque ? a verdict in a highly contentious case that was immediately deplored by a key Muslim body.

The dispute over land ownership has been one of India's most heated issues, with Hindu nationalists demanding a temple on the site in the town of Ayodhya in Uttar Pradesh state for more than a century. The 16th century Babri Masjid mosque was destroyed by Hindu hard-liners in December 1992, sparking massive Hindu-Muslim violence that left some 2,000 people dead.

Saturday's verdict paves the way for building the temple in place of the demolished mosque. As the news broke, groups of jubilant Hindus poured into Ayodhya's streets and distributed sweets to celebrate the verdict, but police soon persuaded them to return to their homes. As night fell, a large number of Hindus in the town lit candles, lamps and firecrackers to celebrate, and police faced a tougher time in curbing their enthusiasm.

The five Supreme Court justices who heard the case said in a unanimous judgment that 5 acres (2 hectares) of land will be allotted to the Muslim community to build a mosque, though it did not specify where. The court said the 5 acres is "restitution for the unlawful destruction of the mosque."

The disputed land, meanwhile, will be given to a board of trustees for the construction of a temple to the Hindu god Ram.


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