February 5, 2015 / 8:34 AM / 3 years ago

Christian protesters clash with police in India's Delhi

NEW DELHI, Feb 5 (Reuters) - Hundreds of Christian protesters clashed with police in India's capital on Thursday as they tried to press demands for better government protection amid concern about rising intolerance after a series of attacks on churches.

Demonstrators were pulled onto police buses as they tried to march from one of the city's largest cathedrals near parliament to the residence of the home minister, Rajnath Singh.

Police imposed an emergency law known as Section 144 which prohibits gatherings. About 200 police were stationed outside the cathedral while several hundred protesters were inside, a Reuters' photographer said.

"All that we are asking is 'what are the police doing? What is the government doing?'," said one protester who gave his name as Garry. Christians wanted proper security and safety, he said.

A spokesman for Delhi police did not respond to a request for comment.

The march comes after five churches in the capital reported incidents of arson, vandalism and burglary.

The latest was reported on Monday when an individual stole ceremonial items and threw holy water on the altar.

In December, a Catholic church in north Delhi was gutted in a fire in a case of suspected arson.

Political rivals have accused the ruling Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party of exploiting divisions in the run-up to state elections in Delhi on the weekend.

In December, a BJP minister told an election rally non-Hindus were "bastards".

U.S. President Barack Obama warned on a visit to India last week that the country's success depended on it not splintering along religious lines.

Religious conversions have become a divisive political issue since hardliners with links to the BJP said Hinduism were under threat and started a campaign to convince Christians and Muslims to change their faith.

About a fifth of India's 1.27 billion people identify themselves as belonging to faiths other than Hinduism. (Reporting by Andrew MacAskill; Additional reporting by Anindito Mukherjee; Editing by Malini Menon and Robert Birsel)

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