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Orissa arrests 2 Christians for Hindu leader's murder

BHUBANESWAR, India (Reuters) - Police arrested two Christians in Orissa on Monday in connection with the murder of a Hindu leader that sparked weeks of deadly

clashes, a killing which is also blamed on Maoist rebels.

The arrests were the first in the killing of Laxmanananda Saraswati in August, a Hindu proselytiser linked with India’s main Hindu-nationalist opposition party.

The murder unleashed a wave of retaliatory attacks by Hindus on Christians in the rural Kandhamal district of Orissa -- leaving at least 35 people dead -- that has been a zone of Christian missionary activities for decades.

“We have arrested two people,” Arun Kumar Ray, inspector general of police, told Reuters, adding that those held were Christians.

A police officer said the two had links with the Maoist rebels. Ray said a third person had been also detained.

The violence against Christians in Orissa was followed by similar attacks in Madhya Pradesh and Karnataka. Hindu nationalists either share power or rule outright in all the three states.

Despite posting thousands of policemen, violence has continued, especially in Kandhamal where thousands of Christians now live in government camps because their homes are destroyed or they are too fearful to return.

Police have arrested about 1000 people, mostly Hindus, in connection with the attacks in Orissa. Hindu groups deny their involvement in the violence, which have been condemned by Pope Benedict. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has called it a “national shame”.