Woman burnt to death in Orissa violence over VHP leader’s killing (Intro Night Lead, superseding earlier story)

August 26th, 2008 - 1:23 am ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 25 (IANS) A young woman was burnt to death and a church official seriously injured when a mob torched an orphanage in an Orissa village, sparking tension across the state Monday even as thousands observed a statewide shutdown called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to protest the killing of one of its leaders.A 22-year-old woman was killed and a church official badly injured when angry mobs burnt down an orphanage in Khuntpali village in Barhgarh district, 300 km from here, Monday.

While Christians claimed the woman was a nun, the state police have denied it.State Director General of Police Gopal Chandra Nanda said categorically that slain woman was not a nun.

In another incident, a paralytic patient was lynched and burnt late Sunday night by an angry mob in Rupa village in the district of Kandhamal. The man was unable to escape when the mob set the houses in the hamlet on fire.

Mobs attacked churches, torched vehicles and stopped rail and road traffic across the state to protest the killing Saturday of Swami Laxmananand Saraswati, a member of VHP’s central advisory committee, and four others at his Jalespata ashram in Kandhamal district.

“Two people have died in two separate incidents. This is most unfortunate,” Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik told reporters.

“The situation is under control and we are closely monitoring it,” he said, adding that he had asked the central government for more security forces.

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.

“There is violence in about two dozen villages in the district,” district collector Kishan Kumar told IANS over phone.

More than 1,000 security personnel were deployed in the region. 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 were 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 were affected across the state, J.P. Mishra, spokesperson of the east coast railway, told IANS. “Passenger and goods trains were not allowed to move from stations.”

Road traffic was also badly hit and many vehicles were attacked.

According to local television channels, protesters damaged dozens of vehicles in several areas 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 Subhash 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.

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

Meanwhile, the All India Christian Council demanded that the central government send the army or central forces to “protect Christians in Orissa”.

In a statement, the council said following the killing of the VHP leader in a “suspected Maoist attack” “carnage broke out against the Christians of Kandhamal district, who are mostly Dalits and tribals” forcing hundreds to flee their homes. It alleged that a nun was raped in the presence of the state police forces.

John Dayal, member of the National Integration Council and secretary general of the council, appealed to President Pratibha Patil seeking deployment of the army and central forces in the state.

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