Churches attacked as Orissa protests intensify (Lead)

August 25th, 2008 - 4:18 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 25 (IANS) Hindu mobs attacked churches and vehicles in several parts of Orissa Monday as a a statewide shutdown called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to protest the killing of a leader of the organisation came into effect impacting rail and road traffic. At least two churches were attacked in the districts of Bargarh and Jajpur, police said.

“Some churches have been attacked and there are reports of sporadic violence,” state Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor told IANS.

Rail and road traffic was disrupted across the state and thousands of people staged demonstrations in several places.

The protesters also burnt more than half a dozen vehicles in separate incidents, police said.

“Train services have been affected across the state,” J.P. Mishra, spokesperson of the east coast railway, told IANS. “Neither passenger nor goods trains were allowed to move from stations.”

Road traffic was badly hit and many vehicles were attacked.

“Protesters damaged at least five vehicles - two in Rourkela and three in the coastal district of Balasore,” a police official said.

Thousands of protesters staged demonstrations and burnt tyres in several villages, towns and on national highways. Almost all shops and petrol pumps remained closed.

Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of VHP’s central advisory committee, and four other people were killed at his Jalespata ashram, some 340 km from here in communally volatile Kandhamal district, Saturday evening after more than 30 suspected Maoist rebels opened fired on them.

According to Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda, the attackers used “sophisticated rifles and AK-47″.

Saraswati was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion in the communally sensitive Kandhamal 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.

Saraswati’s supporters have been holding protests since Saturday night, blocking trains and vehicles.

On Sunday, at least three prayer houses were burnt by a mob in Kandhamal and a police outpost was attacked. Ten houses in Rupagaon village were also set on fire.

The state government Sunday ordered a judicial probe into the killings and announced compensation for the victims. Authorities also constituted a special police team to investigate the crime.

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