Sunday, August 24, 2008

Protests in Orissa over killing of VHP leader

Thousands of people blocked roads and stopped trains in several places in Orissa on Sunday to protest the killing of a Vishwa Hindu Parishad (VHP) leader and four others on Saturday night by armed assailants in the communally-sensitive Kandhamal district. A high alert has been sounded across the state.

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 attackers overpowered the 10 security personnel 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 pm.

Saraswati was a member of the central advisory committee of the VHP.

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

Thousands of people blocked roads at several places in the state. 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 said.

"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.

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