EU Team Visits Site of Anti-Christian Violence in India

There were protests by Hindu groups on Tuesday as an EU delegation arrived in India's Orissa state to visit areas where dozens of Christians were killed in 2008.

Five members of the radical Hindu Banjrang Dal group were arrested during protests at the airport of state capital Bhubaneshwar as the 11-member delegation touched down, according to the Indo-Asian News Service.

The delegation, led by deputy chief of mission in the Spanish embassy Ramon Moreno, will meet victims of the attacks and government officials to discuss efforts to restore security in the area and resettle the thousands who lost their homes in the violence.

The attacks on Christians, predominantly in Kandhamal district, were triggered by the murder of radical Hindu leader Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati in August 2008. Even though Maoists claimed responsibility for the murder, local radical Hindus went on the rampage against Christians, setting their homes and other buildings on fire. Some 40 Christians were killed in the attacks and another 25,000 were displaced.

The visit by the EU delegation had faced strong opposition from the rightwing Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council), which warned it could reignite tensions.

"It is the responsibility of our government to deal with the problem," said VHP general secretary Gouri Prasad Brahma. "There is no business for outsiders in the internal matter of the state."

The EU delegation was originally due to begin its visit last week, but canceled it when the Orissa state government denied the group permission to carry out a fact-finding mission. The visit was rescheduled to this week after the state government reversed its decision.

The delegation is being hosted by the Catholic Church in Orissa. Spokesman Fr. Babu Joseph said their visit reflected the concern of European countries over violations of human rights and religious freedom in India.

"It is not so much an issue concerning only Christians. The EU sees it as a global human issue," he said.

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