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Washington, D.C. (BWA) — Several church leaders in the United States have written to U.S. President George W. Bush to protest the outbreak of violence against Christians in India, urging him “to hold the Indian government accountable to its own constitution, which guarantees freedom of religion and religious expression for all its citizens.”

The signatories, who include William Shaw, president of National Baptist Churches USA Inc., and Daniel Vestal, executive coordinator of the Cooperative Baptist Fellowship, urged the outgoing U.S. president to express to Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh “the US government’s abhorrence of the continued violence against Christians and other minorities within India’s borders.”

The church leaders drew attention to the anti-Christian violence that has taken place since the slaying of a Hindu leader and four adherents in the eastern Indian state of Orissa on Aug. 23, stating that, even though a radical Maoist group claimed responsibility for the killing, “The Vishwa Hindu Parishad (World Hindu Council) blamed the deaths on the Indian Christian community.”

“Hindu extremist groups fostered civil unrest, initially attacking poor Christians in India’s eastern state of Orissa as well as Christian agencies who serve the poor and the needy from diverse religious backgrounds in that state,” the letter read. Now the violence has spread to several other Indian states.

More than 60 Christians have died from the outbreak of violence, and an estimated 50,000 are left homeless.

The church leaders’ letter of Nov. 7 quoted a remark by President Bush when he signed into law a nuclear agreement between the United States and India on Oct. 8: “This agreement sends a signal to the world ‚ÄĚnations that follow the path to democracy and responsible behavior will find a friend in the United States.”

Shaw, Vestal and the more than 20 other leaders of churches and parachurch organizations told the president: “You should insist, in the strongest terms, that these reprehensible groups and the assenting local government agencies be brought into conformity with India’s rule of law. Only if India agrees and acts with goodwill toward all its citizens will it continue to be viewed as a responsible global partner worthy of a place on the world stage with other democratic nations.”

BWA General Secretary Neville Callam has written to the Indian prime minister expressing outrage at the violence and the inability of the Indian authorities to curb it. In his letter of Oct. 6, Callam expressed shock at “the grim situation facing Christians in Orissa,” and stated that he is “alarmed that it is taking so long to bring an end to the fierce persecution they are suffering.”

Callam urged the Indian leader “to intervene, in the best traditions of the Indian sub-continent, to bring relief to the people suffering in Orissa.”

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