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Page last updated at 09:39 GMT, Monday, 1 September 2008 10:39 UK

India Christians shelter in camps

A refugee camp in Kandhamal district
Thousands of Christians have taken shelter in refugee camps

More than 10,000 Christians are living in refugee camps in the eastern Indian state of Orissa after anti-Christian violence in the area, officials say.

Meanwhile, the toll in the continuing violence, after a Hindu leader was killed 10 days ago, has risen to 20.

Over 3,000 police have been deployed but attacks on churches and Christian institutions continue.

A senior Maoist leader has claimed responsibility for the killing, but Hindu groups have accused Christians.

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 expressed its concerns.

'Wretched condition'

With the violence spreading to new areas of the state, refugees continued to arrive at the camps, officials said.

"People actually are in a very wretched condition," news agency Reuters quoted Bijoy Sarangi, who is in-charge of a relief camp in Kandhamal, as saying.

"They are coming from neighbouring villages and the local administration has taken all steps to bring them from their villages to this place. Gradually, the number is increasing," he said.

Swami Laxamananda
A Maoist leader claimed they killed Swami Saraswati

The state's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, visited some of the people caught up in the violence in the worst-affected Kandhamal district.

"I've been to see the houses here. I have met the people here. Relief is being given. Matters will be checked up thoroughly to see that whatever their damages are and that they get the compensation for that," Mr Patnaik said.

Meanwhile, fresh anti-Christian violence was reported from the state's Koraput district over the weekend.

Officials said 10 churches were burnt by arsonists and attacks on Christian houses and institutions continued.

Officials said all schools and colleges in Koraput have been ordered shut for the next three days.

'Punished'

Trouble began 10 days ago after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot along with four others in an attack in the Kandhamal district.

Hindu mobs blamed the killing on Christians and burnt down monasteries, churches and an orphanage.

Christian church in Phulbani District of Orissa state, 26/08
Orissa has seen rising tension between Christians and Hindus

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

Meanwhile, a prominent Maoist leader has claimed that Hindu leader Swami Laxamananda Saraswati was killed by Maoists.

On Saturday, a man claiming to be the prominent rebel leader "Azad" told a local newspaper that the Hindu leader was "punished" for his "fascist" activities.

"He was killed by the People's Liberation Guerrilla Army (PLGA) for the dubious role he played in the violence against Christians in December last year," he said.

The BBC's Rahul Tandon in the state capital, Bhubaneswar, says it 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.


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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