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Page last updated at 08:21 GMT, Friday, 29 August 2008 09:21 UK

Catholic schools in India protest

A protest in Delhi
India's prime minister has called the violence a "national disgrace"

Thousands of Catholic schools are shut across India in protest against continuing anti-Christian violence in the eastern state of Orissa.

Eleven people have died after a Hindu leader was killed in the state's Kandhamal district last Saturday.

Authorities said Maoist rebels were behind the killing, but some Hindu groups have accused Christians.

Over 3000 police have been deployed but attacks on churches continue. Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes.

The Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has described the violence as a "national disgrace".

The Pope too has condemned the violence and the Italian government has also expressed its concerns.

'More help needed'

The Catholic Bishops Conference of India - the highest body of Catholic Bishops - has announced that all Catholic schools and colleges across India would remain closed on Friday.

The organisation runs almost 25,000 schools and colleges in India.

Christian organisations also planned to hold peaceful protest rallies in various cities.

Some non-Catholic Christian schools have also closed for the day.

The Orissa state government say the situation in Kandhamal district is now under control.

Fleeing villagers in Orissa
Hundreds of Christians have fled their homes in Orissa

But the Archbishop of Bhubaneswar, the Orissa capital, Rapheal Cheenath, says the state government must do more to help out those affected by the violence.

"They are refugees now because they have left their homes. They are living in the forests and they should be brought back," he says.

"It is the responsibility of the government that these refugees should be brought back. And also to send for force if necessary to stop this killing, to stop this burning, to stop this looting."

The BBC's Rahul Tandon in Bhubaneswar says this is a complex issue - Hindu groups have long accused Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith.

Christians say lower-caste Hindus convert willingly to escape the Hindu caste system.

As the authorities struggle to deal with the present situation, the divide between the two communities grows wider and wider, our correspondent says.

Trouble began on Saturday after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot along with four others in an attack in the Kandhamal district.

Condemned

The attack has led to days of rioting between Hindu and Christian communities.

Hindu mobs have burnt down monasteries, churches and an orphanage run by Christians.

Among those killed was a Hindu woman who was working at the orphanage, in the village of Barakhama.

The violence was condemned by Pope Benedict XVI who said he was "profoundly saddened" and called for communities to try to restore "peaceful coexistence

"I firmly condemn any attack on human life," Pope Benedict told a crowd of pilgrims on Wednesday.

"I express spiritual closeness and solidarity to the brothers and sisters in faith who are being so harshly tested."

He labelled the death of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati as "deplorable".


SEE ALSO
Riots grip India's Orissa region
26 Aug 08 |  South Asia
Indian police shoot three dead
28 Dec 07 |  South Asia

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