Thousands protest VHP leader’s killing, Orissa orders probe (Lead)

August 24th, 2008 - 3:01 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 24 (IANS) Orissa Sunday ordered a judicial probe into the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and four others Saturday night, even as thousands of people blocked roads and stopped trains at several places in protest.“The state government has ordered a judicial probe into the killing,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik said after reviewing the situation at a high-level meeting in the state secretariat here.

VHP leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, who was leading a campaign against cow slaughter and religious conversion allegedly by Christian missionaries, 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,” district collector Kishan Kumar told IANS over phone.

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

“The attackers overpowered the 10 security personnel and opened fire from their automatic rifles,” Kumar said. “We have found a letter from the spot which indicates it may be a Maoist attack.” The attack took place at around 7.30 p.m.

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

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

Thousands of people blocked roads at several places in Orissa and the state government has asked the police and district administrative heads to remain alert.

“There have been sporadic incidents of road and train blockades in the state,” Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor told IANS. 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 has 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 an ashram. He was a member of the central advisory committee of the VHP.

Hindu radical groups Bajrang Dal and Vishwa Hindu Parisad here said they would observe a statewide shutdown on Monday to protest killing.

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

Apart from Chief Minister Patnaik, Puri Sankaracharya Nischilananda Saraswati and Bajrang Dal leader Subash Chauhan are among those who have condemned the killing.

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