Page last updated at 15:09 GMT, Monday, 13 October 2008 16:09 UK

Indian PM seeks end to violence

By Jyotsna Singh
BBC News, Delhi

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh
Manmohan Singh said those behind the violence must be "dealt with"

The Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh, has called for urgent measures to tackle religious violence.

The issue of rising religious tension dominated a key meeting held in Delhi.

India has seen a wave of violence against Christian and Muslim minorities in recent weeks in which more than 80 people have been killed.

On Sunday, Pope Benedict XVI denounced anti-Christian violence in Orissa at the canonisation of India's first female Christian saint at the Vatican.

In India, senior leaders such as the Congress party President Sonia Gandhi, as well as federal ministers and state chief ministers, all took part in the Delhi meeting.

'Militant groups'

In his opening remarks Mr Singh said he was deeply hurt at the religious violence and blamed its spread on what he called "divisive forces".

Christians protest in front of the St James Church in Bangalore (September 2008)
Christians have also faced attacks in Karnataka and other states

"Recent tragic events in Orissa and Karnataka have pained all right-thinking persons.

"There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially created," he said.

"There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies and spawning militant groups. They must be dealt with firmly."

India's ruling coalition - led by the Congress party - is under pressure to act tough against militant groups such as the Bajrang Dal, a Hindu hard-line group alleged to be behind anti-Christian violence.

But Congress has been in a dilemma ahead of a crucial round of state polls due next month as it does want not to alienate Hindu supporters.

At the same time it must be seen to be doing enough to maintain its traditional support base among religious minorities such as Christians and Muslims.

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