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Charred churches blot on Xmas revelry

Bhubaneswar, Dec. 25: Christmas in the communally sensitive Kondhmal district was marred by violence, which led to curfew being imposed in Daringibadi, Baliguda, Brahmonigaon and Phulbani.

At least 12 churches across the district have been set ablaze or ransacked since last night. Some people set fire to police vehicles, too, in Tikabali area and damaged the house of the relatives of minister Padmanabha Behera in Phiringia area, said the Kondhmal superintendent of police (SP), Narsingh Bhol.

Orissa police chief Gopal Chandra Nanda said: “IG Pradeep Kapur has been camping there since yesterday and keeping a close watch.”

Sources said around 22 platoons of police forces have been deployed at several points. Earlier, activists had used road blockades to stop these forces.

The SP said the situation was tense in about seven police station areas.

Police sources said three churches in Baliguda were set ablaze last night, while 9 more were ransacked or torched in Nuagaon, Chakapad, Phiringia and Giringia today.

The SP said tension erupted when the minority community at Brahmanigaon village wanted to celebrate Christmas and another community opposed it. This led to a clash that left at least four injured.

Communal tension had flared up after VHP leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati was yesterday attacked by a group near Daringibadi when he was on his way to Brahmanigaon to perform a yagna, Bhol said. Saraswati, his bodyguard and driver were injured. In retaliation, a group of people attacked a church at Baliguda last night, said Bhol. The violence then spread to other areas of the district.

VHP activists observed a 4-hour bandh across the state today to protest against the attack on Saraswati. VHP, Bajrang Dal and BJP activists staged road blockade from 8am to 12noon.

Another bandh that was called in Kondhmal was by Kui Samaj, a representative body of Kondh tribes. They were opposing the demand of Dalit Christians for ST status.

Chief minister Naveen Patnaik has appealed for peace and harmony.

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