VHP leader’s killing triggers widespread violence in Orissa (Second Lead)

August 25th, 2008 - 7:55 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 25 (IANS) Orissa simmered with tension Monday with churches attacked, vehicles torched and rail and road traffic affected as thousands demonstrated in several places as part of a statewide shutdown called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to protest the killing of a leader.The volatile Kandhamal district — about 340 km from here where Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a member of VHP’s central advisory committee, and four other people were killed at his Jalespata ashram Saturday evening after more than 30 suspected Maoist rebels opened fire on them — saw the most trouble.

Though the administration imposed curfew in Baliguda and Phulbani towns in the district, people defied the order when the body of the leader was brought in a procession to his ashram. Those in the procession damaged several churches and prayer houses and vehicles, eyewitnesses said.

More than 1,000 security personnel were deployed in the region, where police could do little but chase away the protesters. Officials said the curfew would continue in both towns till Tuesday.

The protesters attacked more than 10 churches in different parts of the state and clashed with police in some places. “Some churches have been attacked and there are reports of sporadic violence,” state Inspector General of Police Pradeep Kapoor told IANS.

Most government and private offices witnessed thin attendance as thousands staged demonstrations and burnt tyres in several villages, towns and on national highways. Almost all shops and petrol pumps remained closed and many were stranded at bus stops.

“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 also badly hit and many vehicles were attacked in separate incidents.

According to local television channels, protesters damaged dozens of vehicles in various parts but officials confirmed damage to only two vehicles in Rourkela and three in the coastal district of Balasore saying they were yet to compile other details.

“It was a spontaneous response of the people to the shutdown,” said national coordinator of the Bajrang Dal, Subash Chauhan.

The unrest was reflected in the Orissa assembly as well with ruling and opposition legislators clashed over the killing.

The opposition Congress demanded suspension of the question hour and an immediate discussion on the law and order problems in the state; and the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) - ally of the ruling Biju Janata Dal - demanded suspension of proceedings for the day in view of the shutdown.

Speaker Kishore Kumar Mohanty was forced to adjourn the house after members of both sides rushed towards his podium and refused to let the house run. He initially adjourned the house for an hour and later for the day as the situation showed no signs of improving.

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

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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