Mental shift

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WRAPUP 1-More killed in India religious riots, Pope saddened

Posted by jytmkh on August 27, 2008

* Police ordered to shoot rioters on sight

* More deaths as violence spreads to new districts

* Pope condemns killings

 By Jatindra Dash

BHUBANESWAR, India, Aug 27 (Reuters) – Police were ordered to shoot rioters on sight in an eastern Indian state on Wednesday to tame rising violence between Hindus and Christians that has killed 11 people so far and left the Pope “profoundly saddened”.

Three bodies were found overnight in Orissa’s rural Kandhamal district, where Hindu mobs have damaged more than a dozen churches and attacked Christian homes and an orphanage this week.

The violence, now spreading to new districts, was sparked by the murder of a Hindu leader in Kandhamal, a tribal area where Christian missionaries have been active for years.

The murdered leader had been heading a local campaign to reconvert Hindus and tribal people from Christianity.

Authorities extended a curfew and issued orders to police to shoot on sight any troublemaker in 11 towns of Kandhamal.

Most of the dead so far have been Christians.

Hundreds of police marched through Kandhamal to maintain calm, but the violence spread to nearby districts with Hindus attacking Christians and the two groups clashing in some places.

Religious violence has roiled Kandhamal region for years with Hindu and Christian groups fighting over religious conversion.

Hardline Hindus accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith. Christian groups say lower-caste Hindus who convert do so willingly to escape the highly stratified and oppressive Hindu caste system.

Pope Benedict condemned the violence against Christians but also deplored the killing of the Hindu leader.

“While I firmly condemn every attack on human life, whose sacredness required respect by all, I express my spiritual closeness and solidarity to the brothers and sisters in the faith who are so sorely tried,” he told pilgrims and tourists in the Vatican City.

 RELIGIOUS TURF WAR?

India’s constitution is secular, but most of its billion-plus citizens are Hindu. About 2.5 percent of Indians are Christians.

But around the Kandhamal area, home to around 650,000 people, more than 20 percent of the mainly tribal inhabitants are Christian converts. 

Orissa police inspector general Pradeep Kapoor said sporadic violence was being reported from the state’s other districts such as Baragarh, Bolangir, Raigada and Gajapati.

Violence erupted after armed men killed the Hindu leader linked to the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and four others last week.

Police blamed the killings on local Maoist rebels taking sides in a controversy over religious conversions, but Hindus say Christians were to blame.

The worst violence was reported from Kandhamal’s Barakhama village on Tuesday, where Hindus and Christians clashed and shot at each other, killing four people. That toll could rise as police look for more bodies and clear out burnt debris.

A top body of Indian bishops said some 25,000 Catholic schools and colleges in India would be closed on Friday in protest against the killings.

There have been attacks on Christians in other parts of Orissa and India as well in previous years. In 1999, a Hindu mob killed Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children by burning them in their car in Orissa. (Writing by Krittivas Mukherjee; Editing by Alistair Scrutton and Alex Richardson)

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