Woman burnt to death in Orissa violence (Third lead)

August 25th, 2008 - 9:28 pm ICT by IANS  

Bhubaneswar, Aug 25 (IANS) A young woman was burnt to death and a Christian priest seriously injured when a mob torched an orphanage in an Orissa village as tension soared across the state Monday with thousands observing a statewide shutdown called by the Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) to protest the killing of a leader.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.

Meanwhile, 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.

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 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 — 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 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.

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