3 more die in religious clashes in India
Friday, 29 August 2008

Agencies

Three more people have died in eastern India in fighting between Hindus and Christians, taking the death toll this week to 11, police say.

Hindu mobs have damaged more than a dozen churches and attacked Christian homes and an orphanage after the murder of the Hindu leader Swamiji Laxmanananda Saraswati.
 
The riots are in Orissa state's Kandhamal district, a tribal area where Christian missionaries are active and fighting over religious conversions has gone on for years. Saraswati headed a local campaign to convert Hindus and tribal people back from Christianity.
 
"Of the three deaths reported, one person who was attacked with axe and sticks died in hospital last night," said Kishan Kumar, Kandhamal's chief official.
 
The Orissa police inspector general, Pradeep Kapoor, said sporadic violence was being reported from other districts including Baragarh, Bolangir, Raigada and Gajapati.
 
Protests erupted after armed men killed Saraswati, who was linked to the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata party (BJP), and four others last week.
 
Police blamed the killings on Maoist rebels taking sides in the controversy over religious conversions, but Hindus have blamed Christians.
 
The worst violence was reported from Barakhama village yesterday, where four people died as Hindus and Christians shot at each other. That figure could rise as police look for more bodies and clear out debris from fires.
 
Hardline Hindus accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith. Christian groups say Hindus who convert do so willingly to escape the oppressive caste system.
 
Since the latest attacks, authorities have extended a curfew in 11 towns of Kandhamal and hundreds of police have been sent in.
 
India's constitution is secular but most people are Hindus. About 2.5% are Christians.
 
In Kandhamal, home to around 650,000 people, more than 20% of the mainly tribal inhabitants are Christian converts.
 
Senior Indian bishops said 25,000 Catholic schools and colleges in India would be closed on Friday in protest at the killings.

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