Orissa shuts down schools, colleges as protests spread (Second Lead)

August 24th, 2008 - 7:59 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 24 (IANS) Orissa has ordered the closure of all schools and colleges in the state for a day Monday in view of the shutdown call of Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to protest the killing of one of its leaders and four others.“To avoid any untoward incident, the government has ordered the closure of all educational institutions in the state for a day Monday,” an official at Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik’s office told IANS.

The state government Sunday ordered a judicial probe into the killing of VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati and four other people, as thousands of protesters blocked roads and stopped trains at several places in the state.

“The state government has ordered a judicial probe into the killings,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik after reviewing the situation at a high-level meeting at the state secretariat here.

Saraswati was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion allegedly by Christian missionaries. He was shot dead at his Jalespata ashram, some 340 km from here.

“More than 30 men opened fire at the octogenarian leader, killing him and four others,” said District Collector Kishan Kumar by phone.

The ashram is located in the communally-sensitive Kandhamal district.

“The attackers overpowered the 10 security personnel and opened fire from their automatic weapons,” Kumar said. “We have found a letter from the spot which indicates it may be a Maoist attack.”

The attack took place around 7.30 p.m. Saturday.

“The weapons they used, the bullets and a letter recovered from the spot indicate that they may be Maoists rebels,” said Gopal Chandra Nanda, state director general of police. “The attackers have used sophisticated rifles and AK-47,” he said.

The authorities have prohibited the gathering of four or more people in the entire district and security has been beefed up in the area.

The state government has asked the police and district administration heads to remain alert.

“There have been sporadic incidents of road and train blockades in the state,” said Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor. A high alert has been sounded across the state, he added.

“Thousands of policemen and paramilitary force troopers have been deployed in the district to avoid any untoward incidents,” he said.

Kandhamal district, with a population of around 600,000 including 150,000 Christians, is considered one of the most communally sensitive regions in the state. The region has witnessed numerous clashes between Hindus and Christians in the past.

Saraswati, a member of the central advisory committee of the VHP, served tribes, mainly Kandhs, in the region.

His main ashram is located at Chakapad in the same district. The place where he was killed houses a residential school for girls and another ashram.

Apart from Chief Minister Patnaik, Puri Sankaracharya Nischilananda Saraswati, Bharatiya Janata Party national vice-president Jual Oram, and Bajrang Dal leader Subash Chauhan are among those who have condemned the killings.

Hindu groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parisad here announced they would observe a statewide shutdown Monday to protest the killings.

“The state will observe bandh Monday to protest the brutal murders,” said Subash Chauhan, all India convenor of Bajrang Dal.

The state government Sunday has sent a high level police team and additional police forces to the district to monitor the situation.

The dead would be cremated in the district Monday.

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