Curfew relaxed in Orissa, district magistrate transferred

By Jatindra Dash, IANS

Bhubaneswar : Curfew was relaxed in some parts of Orissa’s Kandhamal district Friday following five days of communal clashes over Christmas celebrations that left two people dead and several injured. The government has transferred the district magistrate and ordered a probe into the violence.

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In a related incident, four people were killed and three police officials injured in Brahmanigaon village in the district Thursday when a 500-strong mob attacked a police station where several Hindu villagers had taken shelter after their houses were burnt down and the police opened fire to disperse the crowd.

The state government Friday evening transferred the district magistrate and collector of Kandhamal, Bhabagrahi Mohapatra and asked him to report to the general administration department at state capital Bhubaneswar immediately.

The government has posted Malkangiri collector Manish Kumar Verma as the new district magistrate and collector of Kandhamal, said an official.

Inspector General of Police of the region Pradeep Kapoor said curfew was lifted during the day in Phulbani and Baliguda. “It was however reinforced in the evening. However, curfew continues in Daringbadi and Brahmanigaon,” said Kapoor.

Curfew was imposed Tuesday night in the police station areas of Baliguda, Daringbadi, Brahmanigaon and Phulbani town.

“Since Thursday night the situation was normal and there has been no report of communal violence from any area, though tension is still high,” Kapoor told IANS.

Retired justice of Orissa High Court, Basudev Panigrahi, will probe the incidents under the commission of inquiry act, the chief minister told reporters Friday.

The one-man Panigrahi commission will submit its report to the state government within four months. It will inquire into the background of the clashes, identify people or organisations responsible and the role of the administration, an official said.

Meanwhile, state Steel and Mines Minister Padamnav Behera sent his resignation to Chief Minister Naveen Patnaik owning moral responsibility for violence in his home district of Kandhamal, 200 km from the state capital.

Behera has been accused of inciting violence in the region. The Kui Samaj, a body of Kui tribals, had recently met the chief minister and demanded his resignation.

Police said Friday that the core trouble area continued to be the Christian dominated Brahmanigaon village, about 150 km from the district headquarters of Phulbani.

On Thursday afternoon, hundreds of villagers burnt some Hindu houses in the area. Police rushed in to rescue the villagers and brought them to the station. However, a mob of about 500 people opened fire at the police station and the police opened fire to disperse the crowd. In the clashes and firing that went on for more than an hour, at least four people were killed and three police officials injured.

On Monday, trouble first broke out in Brahmanigaon, which has a population of about 4,000.

The government has asked all its district collectors and district police chiefs to remain alert fearing more violence.

“The state government has asked all its collectors and superintendents of police in all 30 districts to remain alert and see that no violence breaks out in their region,” a senior official of the state home department told IANS.

“They have been informed not to go on leave and stay in the district headquarter to meet any situation,” the official said.

Trouble escalated on Monday when some people attacked the vehicle of local Hindu leader Swami Laxmananda Saraswati near Daringbadi when he was on his way to perform a yagna in Brahmanigaon.

Dozens of churches and prayer houses were burnt, vehicles were torched and houses of both Hindus and Christians attacked in the days that followed.

Kandhamal district, which has a population of about 600,000 including 150,000 Christians, is considered one of the most communally sensitive regions in the state with numerous clashes reported between both Hindus and Christians in the past.