NEW DELHI, India -- Bloody communal riots killed more than 200 people across the country and opposition leaders shouted down Prime Minister P.V. Narasimha Rao in Parliament as the Indian subcontinent convulsed in rage Monday following the destruction of a 16th Century mosque by Hindu zealots.
Thousands of militant Hindus defiantly began erecting a temple on the site of the destroyed Babri mosque in the northern city of Ayodhya despite the presence of 20,000 security forces who confiscated their food supplies and ordered them over loudspeakers to leave the city on specially arranged trains.
The destruction of the mosque, which many Hindus believe was built atop the birthplace of the Hindu diety Rama, touched off violent reactions in the neighboring Muslim countries of Bangladesh, Afghanistan and Pakistan, where rioters set fire to more than a dozen Hindu temples.
Iran, which has close ties to India's Shiite Muslim population, also reacted sharply to the mosque's destruction, with religous leader Ayatollah Ali Khamenei warning Muslims to oppose 'attacks by infidels' and not 'tolerate such attitudes of the enemy.'
Mobs of Hindu devotees wielding picks, chisels and hammers and cheered on by a crowd of 200,000 went on a rampage in Ayodhya Sunday, smashing through police barricades and scaling the walls of the mosque, which they attacked with their tools and demolished during the five-hour riot.
The largest opposition political group in Parliament, the Bharatiya Janata Party, has been agitating for years for the removal of the mosque and the construction of a temple to Rama, the central figure in the religious epic Ramayana, on the site.
Many Hindus believe the mosque, built in 1548 by the Muslim conquerer Babar, was constructed atop the ruins of a temple marking the site of Rama's birthplace. While the mosque appears to have been built on a previous structure, there is no solid evidence it was a Hindu temple.
BJP leader Lal Krishnan Advani, who brought down the government of Prime Minister V.P. Singh in 1990 and scored a major electoral success through his manipulation of the issue, resigned Monday as leader of the opposition in Parliament following the destruction of the mosque.
Prime Minister Rao, who leads a minority Congress (I) Party government that has courted Muslim support, was shouted down in Parliament by lawmakers angry over his administration's failure to take more aggressive steps to protect the mosque from Hindu extremists.
Opposition leaders demanded Rao's resignation and their shouting prevented him from making a statement, but Congress Party spokesman Vithal Narhar Gadgil said the prime minister rejected calls for his resignation. He said the party remained strong in Parliament and ruled out mid-term elections on the issue.
Despite Rao's appeals for calm, the imposition of widespread curfews and the dismissal of the state government in Uttar Pradesh where the mosque is located, rioting erupted across the country from the northern Hindu 'Cow Belt' to the prime minister's southern home state of Andhra Pradesh.
Indian authorities deployed army troops and imposed curfews in many cities, firing bullets and tear gas and wielding batons to break up Hindu-Muslim violence that wracked the walled old city areas that are traditionally the home of India's minority Muslim community.
Militant Hindus went on a rampage in Ayodhya, burning Muslim homes, looting their shops and destroying a second mosque in the city, the Press Trust of India news agency reported. Journalists said 15 people died in Hindu-Muslim clashes in the city, and another nine were killed in violence in Kanpur city in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, including six killed in a fire.
Police fired on rioters at several locations in the main Muslim neighborhood of Bombay, India's commercial capital, killing at least 40 people, officials reported. In Calcutta, India's most populous city, violence killed at least four people, and in Delhi's old city, at least three died.
Riots also killed 22 and injured 60 in the walled old city of Jaipur, a popular tourist destination in western Rajasthan state, PTI said. The agency said 21 were killed and 70 wounded in the Gujarat state capital of Ahmedabad, which has been the site of violent Hindu-Muslim clashes in the past.
As the death toll from clashes around the country continued to mount, an estimated 15,000 Hindu devotees remained at the site of the Ayodhya mosque and were proceeding with the construction of a Rama temple despite efforts by security forces to make them leave.
The Press Trust said about 50,000 devotees left the city aboard 20 specially organized trains after being ordered out of the holy town by troopers using loudspeakers. The agency said devotees working on the temple built a concrete staircase and a wall around two idols of Ram while singing devotional songs.
Although 20,000 paramilitary troops have been moved into the city by the central government, they have not attempted to forcibly remove the estimated 15,000 Hindu devotees remaining. A Home Ministry spokesman said there had been no need to use force against the devotees in Ayodhya so far.
The government said on state-run television Monday it would act against those responsible for destroying the mosque and would ban sectarian or communal organizations responsible for inflaming tensions between Muslims, Hindus and other Indian religious groups.
It was unclear whether the government would attempt to include the Bharatiya Janata Party -- meaning Indian People's Party -- which governed in Uttar Pradesh state and was blamed for fanning passions over the mosque issue along with the closely affiliated Vishwa Hindu Parishad, or World Hindu Council.
The destruction of the mosque touched off a wave of anti-India and anti-Hindu violence in neighboring Pakistan, where angry protesters burned temples, ransacked Air India offices and burned Rao in effigy outside the Indian Embassy in Islamabad. Some 3 million Hindus live in Pakistan.
Prime Minister Nawaz Sharif, in a bid to blunt criticism and channel the anger into peaceful protest, called for a nationwide strike Tuesday over the mosque's destruction. But opposition Muslim groups stridently rejected the strike as an inadequate response and demanded he break off ties with India.
Afghan guerrilla chief Gulbadin Hekmatyar, the head of the Islamic fundamentalist Hezb-i-Islami group, condemned what he called 'the shameless act of the fanatic Hindus' and called for Muslim countries to enforce 'a political and economic boycott of India.'
Protesters armed with sticks and iron bars went on a rampage in Bangladesh, which has about 15 million Hindus. Protesters smashed windows and looted shops owned by Hindus. Police used tear gas and rubber bullets to disperse the mob, killing one person and wounding 50 others, officials said.