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Page last updated at 11:19 GMT, Thursday, 19 March 2009

Orissa Hindu activist shot dead

By Sandeep Sahu
BBC News, Bhubaneshwar

Smoke rises from the rubble of a Christian orphanage destroyed in Orissa
Orissa saw weeks of violence last year

Suspected Maoist rebels have killed a leader of hardline Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS) in the eastern Indian state of Orissa.

Prabhat Panigrahi was attacked by about 15 people and shot dead in Rudhiguma village in Kandhamal district.

Hindu activists said the killing was the result of a "nexus" between state officials, Christians and Maoists.

Last year, Kandhamal district witnessed weeks of anti-Christian violence after a Hindu leader was shot dead.

The clashes erupted in August after Hindu groups blamed Christians for the killing.

Roads blocked

Mr Panigrahi was detained in connection with the anti-Christian riots and was released from jail only last Saturday.

He was one of 14 local leaders who were named on a hit-list released by Maoists for alleged anti-Christian activities during the riots.

Kandhamal police chief S Praveen Kumar told the BBC: "We are keeping all possibilities open and can comment on the possible killers only after a thorough investigation."

Map

Police struggled to reach the remote village where the killing took place as the attackers had blocked roads with logs.

Angry villagers refused to allow the police to take possession of the body of the Hindu leader.

They are demanding compensation for the family of the victim, the immediate arrest of the killers and protection for Hindus.

Leaders of Hindu organisations reacted sharply to the killing.

"This is the result of the nexus between the state government on the one hand and the Christians and Maoists on the other," said Subas Chouhan, leader of another Hindu hardline group, Bajrang Dal.

"The Maoists have been given a free run in the area to bump off those working for the interests of Hindus," he said.

Nearly two dozen people, mostly Christians, died in last year's clashes in Kandhamal.

The trouble began after Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati was shot along with four others.

Although a senior Maoist rebel leader claimed responsibility, Hindu groups blamed Christians.

Hindu mobs went on a rampage, attacking and vandalising churches and Christian institutions.

Thousands of Christians fled their homes for refugee camps.

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

Hardline Hindu groups in Orissa say Christian priests bribe poor tribespeople and low-caste Hindus to convert to Christianity.

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

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