Saturday, August 23, 2008

Four key VHP leaders shot dead in Orissa

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24 August, 2008 12:32:34
At least five persons, including four prominent VHP leaders, were shot dead by unidentified gunmen, suspected to be Maoists in Orissa's communally-sensitive Kandhmal district ton on Saturday night.

About 30 armed men struck at the ashram in Jalespata under Tumudibandh block, 127 km from Kandhamal's district headquarter town of Phulbani at around 9.15 pm (IST) and sprayed bullets, leaving VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four others dead, a senior police officer said.

The dead in the attack in the district also included VHP's Laxmananda Saraswati, Arupananda, Chinmayananda and Mata Bhaktimayee and an unidentified person, he said.

Tension broke out at some places in the tribal-dominated Kandhmal after the attack on the ashram and roads leading to Tumudibandh were sealed, police said adding steps were taken to prevent any communal flare-up in the district which witnessed violence during the Christmas in December 2007.

Additional security forces, including CRPF, were deployed in the area.

“Besides tightening security in Kandhmal, we have sought additional para-military forces from the Centre. The Centre was also requested to extend the stay of seven CRPF companies in the district,” Home Secretary T K Mishra said.

About five persons, mostly ashram inmates, were also injured in the attack, which triggered panic among people in the area prompting immediate shut down of shops and markets.

Eighty-five-year old Laxmanananda Saraswati, who had been working among the tribals in Kandhamal for last about four decades, was the centre of a controversy since the communal violence that rocked the district during Christmas in 2007.

Saraswati had been given police protection but the securitymen were overpowered by the assailants, sources said.

Condemning the killing Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik has asked the people to maintain peace and harmony in the wake of the killing of Swamiji (Laxmananda) To prevent any communal colour being given to the killing, security was tightened in the district and the state government asked the Centre to rush two additional battalions of paramilitary force.

“I spoke to the union home secretary to rush additional force and allow extention of seven companies of CRPF which had been deployed in the district since December 2007," DIG of police (southern range) R P Koche said.

Though involvement of Maoists in the killing was suspected, a senior police officer said the attackers were not in naxal fatigue but a note was found from the site claiming that the attack was by the ultras.

“We are verifying the note to ascertain facts," the official said.

"It looked like a meticulously planned attack which was executed with speed, accuracy and precision," he said adding that the attackers used weapons like AK-47 and revolvers besides hurling bombs on ashram inmates when they were celebrating Janmashtami.

VHP has given a call for 12-hour Orissa bandh on Monday in protest against the killing of Laxmanananda.

The killing had its echo elsewhere in Orissa too with saffron activists staging protests and blocking roads.

In Bhubaneswar, the saffron brigade staged demonstrations and put up road blockade at several localities.

Several National Highways were blocked by VHP workers at different places including Dhenkanal, Bhuasuni and Angul leaving a large number of vehicles stranded, said police sources.

Curfew in Kandhamal

Meanwhile, curfew was imposed in Kandhmal district on Sunday morning.

“I have asked the district collector of Kandhmal to impose curfew with effect from tomorrow morning," Revenue Divisional Commissioner, Southern Division, Satyabrata Sahu told PTI on Saturday night.

Security has also been tightened in the tribal dominated district after the killing at an ashram for girls in Tumudibandh, he said adding the entire area has been sealed as a precautionary measure.

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