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Over 5,000 Christians Take Protest Against Orissa Violence to India's Capital

BHUBANESHWAR, India – Over 5,000 Christians from various denominations in the India gathered Friday at the office of the Orissa state resident commissioner to show solidarity with the victims of the country's worst-ever communal violence against Christians.

The gathering at Orissa Bhawan in New Delhi was the result of an appeal made by churches to protest the recent violence unleashed against the minority Christian community following the murder of a prominent Hindu leader and four others by suspected Maoist groups.

Protesters on Friday heard from church dignitaries and others, including retired high court justice Kulse Patil; Shabnam Azami, director of the progressive voluntary organization ANHAD (Act Now for Harmony and Democracy); Udit Raj, a dalit leader; Teesta Setalvad, an eminent social activist; and Member of Parliament P.C. Thomas. Each speaker condemned the violence and stressed the secular character of the country.

"Over 50,000 people have been displaced and over 2,000 homes destroyed," reported Archbishop Raphael Cheenath from the Bhubaneshwar Diocese of the Catholic Church

He further added that "the police were mere bystanders as the rioters' rampaged village after village." At the time of the rally Friday, the known death toll had mounted to 30. Many more are feared dead, however, according to unconfirmed reports.

Prominent social activist Teesta Setalvand also expressed her solidarity with the Christian community, especially thanking them for their service to the nation through the numerous schools, colleges and medical institutions and the service to the poor and the oppressed in the most backward regions of the country.

At the end of the two-hour rally, Christian leaders led by Archbishop Raphael submitted a memorandum to Murlidhar Chandrakant Bhandare, governor of Orissa.

According to sources, at least 3,000 people – mostly Christians – are living in government-run relief camps and several thousands have fled to forests since the recent violence rocked Orissa state.

Christian leaders said that at least 1,000 Christian homes had been set on fire since last Monday and more than 5,000 people are homeless.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called on the state government, run by a coalition including the opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, to restore peace.

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