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Hindu-Christian violence under control, claim authorities

Article published on the 2008-08-29 Latest update 2008-08-29 15:55 TU

Christians attend a prayer meeting in Hyderabad(Photo: Reuters)

Christians attend a prayer meeting in Hyderabad
(Photo: Reuters)

Officials in the Indian state of Orissa say that anti-Christian violence is "under control" after at least ten people were killed and hundreds of homes burnt. There were prayer meetings and rallies against the violence throughout the country on Friday, as Catholic leaders accused the police of failing to protect priests and nuns.

Orissa's Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said that Kandhamal, the district at the centre of the violence, is "fast returning to normal" and that riots in other districts are "completely controlled".

On Friday thousands of Catholic schools, along with institutions run by other Christian denominations, closed to protest at violence they described a "the worst in years". There were protest rallies and prayer meetings throughout the country.

Orissa officials say they have opened seven relief camps which are sheltering nearly 5,000 people, with more still arriving.

The authorities say that ten people have died, although some government officials put the figure at at least 16.

There are also reports that 167 people have been arrested and nearly 500 houses have been burnt down, along with prayer halls and vehicles.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh declared the events "a national shame". Rights groups have accused the Orissa state government, which is a coaltion led by the regional party, Biju Janata Dal, of failing to protect the victims.

"They should have immediately taken precautionary measures and moved the paramilitary into these extremely remote areas," Teesta Setalvad.

"By not doing that, the state government not only abdicated its responsibility but was being influenced by its right-wing partner, the BJP, to whom the Vishwa Hindu Parishad and Bajrang Dal are filial bodies," she added, referring to two hardline Hindu groups.

The violence flared up after the killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four other members of the Hindu groups, who had accused Christians of winning converts by offering social benefits.

Police blamed the killings on Maoist guerrillas but the mobs blamed Christians for the deaths.