After five days, fewer incidents of violence in Orissa (Lead)

August 29th, 2008 - 10:21 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 29 (IANS) After five days of communal violence following the killing of a Hindu group leader, Orissa reported fewer clashes between Christians and Hindus Friday. Nearly 10,000 Christians who had fled their homes in fear of their lives in Kandhamal district have taken shelter in relief camps.“We have set up seven relief camps in the district and nearly 10,000 Christians who had fled to the jungles have returned,” District Collector Krishan Kumar told IANS.

The district administration said nearly 6,000 more people were expected to come to the relief camps Saturday.

Curfew was relaxed for a few hours but re-imposed at 6 p.m. Friday.

“There were stray incidents of violence in parts of Kandhamal,” a police official told IANS by phone.

The areas where violence broke out included Phiringia, Tikabali and Udayagiri. The police official said mobs blocked roads in several places in the district.

“We have arrested at least 137 people in the district since Saturday,” he added.

The officials said they have recovered two more bodies, taking the number of deaths to 13 since Saturday.

However, local TV channels and newspapers said at least 17 people have died in the communal violence so far.

The district administration said no reports were received of any fresh cases of casualties.

Orissa has been on the boil since Saturday when Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others were killed at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal district.

Saraswati was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion in the communally sensitive district. The district with a population of around 600,000, including 150,000 Christians, has witnessed numerous clashes between Hindus and Christians in the past.

Radical Hindu groups in the state alleged that Christians killed Saraswati because he was opposing religious conversion. Christian organisations deny the allegation.

“Policemen have been ordered to shoot rioters at sight and curfew is in force in all major towns of Kandhamal. Security forces have been taking out flag marches in several areas,” a government official said.

Asit Kumar Mohanty, regional coordinator of the Global Council of Indian Christians, alleged that 30 Christians have been killed since Saturday.

“Over 4,000 people have been injured and more than 20,000 houses have been burnt,” Mohanty told IANS.

However, government sources said the figures given by Mohanty were exaggerated.

Orissa is no stranger to communal violence between Hindus and Christians. On Jan 22, 1999, Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two sons, 10-year-old Philip and six-year-old Timothy, were burnt alive by a mob of Hindu radicals in the Staines’ vehicle in Keonjhar district.

On Friday, over 100 Christian educational institutions remained closed across the state to protest the killing of their community members.

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