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Bush under pressure to condemn India's response to anti-Christian violence
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Bush under pressure to condemn India's response to anti-Christian violence

Posted on Thu, Sep 25, 2008

President Bush is under pressure to use a meeting with India's Prime Minister tomorrow to press for urgent action to halt the anti-Christian riots that continue to sweep the subcontinent.

President Bush is under pressure to use a meeting with India's Prime Minister tomorrow to press for urgent action to halt the anti-Christian riots that continue to sweep the subcontinent.

Tensions remain at crisis point in several parts of India. At least 45 Christians have been murdered by mobs of Hindu fanatics over the past month, according to church officials. An estimated 50,000 people have been driven from their villages and 4,000 homes destroyed amid an upsurge in Hindu nationalism.

Today one person was killed when police opened fire on a Hindu mob that stormed a police station in the eastern state of Orissa, demanding the release of extremist leaders held for attacking Christians.

Amid evidence that the violence is spreading, a US federal commission has called on Mr Bush, a Christian who has worn his faith on his sleeve while in office, to press the issue when he meets the Indian Prime Minister, Manmohan Singh.

Felice D. Gaer, the chairman of the United States Commission on International Religious Freedom, said: "If India is to exercise global leadership Prime Minister Singh should demonstrate his government's commitment to uphold the basic human rights obligations to which it has agreed ... The Indian government's response remains inadequate."

The criticism comes after condemnation of India's record in policing anti-Christian riots by the Pope and the Archbishop of Canterbury.

Mr Singh will be hoping to use his meeting with Mr Bush to help ease a deal past the US Congress that will give India access to American civilian nuclear technology.

The White House has already been instrumental in ending India's decades-old status as a nuclear pariah, giving the country access to outside atomic equipment despite its refusal to sign the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty. The deal is regarded as an indicator of America's desire to nurture India as a counterforce to the rise of China in Asia.

But any notion that the US is championing a country that allows violence against Christians is sure to enrage millions of devout Americans.

In Orissa, the site last month of the worst anti-Christian violence in India since Independence, about 12,000 refugees remain in camps, unwilling to risk returning to their villages. As many as 40,000 are still hiding in the jungle.

David Griffiths of Christian Solidarity Worldwide, a campaign group, who is in Orissa, said: "Anyone going back is either facing violence or coercive conversion to Hinduism. [And yet, the state government] continues to claim that everything is normal."

There are fears that without international pressure anti-Christian attacks will continue to spread as Hindu extremist politicians seek to mobilise voters before general elections that must be held before May.

In the past week more than 20 churches have been targeted in and around the southern city of Bangalore, the centre of India's flagship IT industry.

The unrest is thought to have been led by the Bajrang Dal, an extremist Hindu youth organisation that is opposed to the alleged conversion of poor Hindus by foreign-backed Christian missionaries.

Ms Gaer said that both Indian and the US are "joined in the battle against elements of extremism originating from religious communities".

The UN recently gave warning that a rise in violence against minorities by extremists among India's dominant Hindus risked sparking a repeat of the anti-Muslim riots that hit Gujarat in 2002, which claimed 2,500 lives.

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