March 19, 2009 / 11:05 AM / 8 years ago

Maoists kill local RSS leader in Orissa

BHUBANESWAR (Reuters) - Suspected Maoists shot dead a Hindu leader in Orissa, police said on Thursday, raising fears of religious clashes in the region.

Police said Prabhat Panigrahi, a local leader of the Rashtriya Swayamsevak Sangh (RSS), a hardline Hindu organisation, was found dead near a remote village late on Wednesday.

"It appears to be a killing carried out by the Maoists," S. Praveen Kumar, a senior police officer, told Reuters.

Maoists, who accuse Hindu groups of stirring up religious tensions, were blamed for the murder of a Hindu leader last year in the same part of Orissa.

The killing of Laxmanananda Saraswati in August, a Hindu leader linked with the Bharatiya Janata Party, unleashed a wave of retaliatory attacks by Hindus on Christians last year.

The violence left at least 38 people dead and thousands were forced to flee homes. Police said Panigrahi was earlier arrested for his involvement in the communal violence and was recently out on bail.

Maoists distributed fliers last year in villages, saying they would kill Hindu hardline leaders for flaring up communal tension.

Hindus on the other hand accuse Christians of hiring Maoist fighters to kill their leaders.

India's constitution is secular, but most of its billion-plus citizens are Hindus. About 2.5 percent of Indians are Christians.

There have been attacks on Christians in the past in Orissa and other parts of India. In 1999, a Hindu mob killed Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children by burning them in their car in Orissa.

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