Protests spread in Orissa after VHP leader’s killing (Third Lead)

August 24th, 2008 - 10:37 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 24 (IANS) Thousands of people protested in Orissa blocking vehicles and trains amid sporadic violence Sunday, a day after a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and four others were killed. “Sporadic violence has been reported from different parts of the state, including in three places in Kandhamal district where the killing took place,” state Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor told IANS.

While protesters set on fire a vehicle near Baliguda, they scuffled with the police in a few places. However, nobody was injured, Kapoor said without giving details of the incidents.

Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of the central advisory committee of the VHP, was killed at his Jalespata ashram, some 340 km from here, with four others at 7.30 p.m. Saturday after more than 30 suspected Maoists rebels opened fired on them.

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

“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 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.

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

The state government sounded a high alert across the state and clamped orders prohiniting gathering of five or more people in Kandhamal district after Saraswati’s supporters came out on streets, burnt tyres and obstructed traffic.

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

“The state government has ordered a judicial probe into the killings,” said Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik after reviewing the situation.

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

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

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

The dead will be cremated in the district on the same day.

Thousands of policemen and paramilitary troopers were deployed in the district to avoid any untoward incidents.

The state government has also ordered the closure of all schools and colleges in the state for a day Monday in view of the shutdown call.

Orissa’s main opposition Congress party led by former chief minister and opposition leader J.B. Patnaik met Governor Muralidhar Chandrakant Bhandare and demanded dismissal of the Biju Janata Dal (BJD) government, saying it had no moral right to remain in power.

“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.

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