Orissa officials said at least four people, including a woman, were killed in Kandhamal's Barakhama village when Hindus and Christians clashed and shot at each other."Police broke up the two groups and brought the situation under control," said Satyabrata Sahoo, a top administrative official said.Two more bodies were found in a separate village in the district late on Tuesday, both killed a day earlier, Kishan Kumar, administrative head of Kandhamal district said.The deaths took the toll from two days of violence to eight, also including two people burned to death inside houses torched by Hindu crowds. More than a dozen churches have been damaged.Violence erupted after armed men killed a Hindu leader linked to the main opposition Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP) and four others last week, an attack Hindus blamed on Christians.The leader had been heading a local campaign to reconvert Hindus and tribal people from Christianity.Local TV stations showed an angry mob vandalizing a church, throwing away furniture and setting it on fire.Villagers blocked roads with logs and boulders to stop police from entering the trouble spots.Police said Hindus attacked Christians and set their homes on fire in Kandhamal's Patingia and Matingia villages. A church was also damaged in the same district."A mob tried to torch a school bus but police chased them away," Pradeep Kapoor, police inspector general, told Reuters.
The Vatican condemned the attacks, calling for "an end to all bullying" and a return to dialogue.
"It expresses its solidarity with local churches and the religious orders involved, and condemns these actions, which are an affront to dignity, peoples' freedom, and endanger peaceful civil coexistence," a Vatican statement said.Separately, the Rome-based Italian missionary agency Misna said it had received reports that two Jesuit priests had been abducted in the area but had no further details.A top body of Indian bishops counted 32 incidents of violence against Christians in Orissa over the past two days. In protest, it said some 25,000 Catholic schools and colleges in India would be closed on Friday."People are totally harassed, driven away from their homes, beaten up and institutions destroyed," Archbishop Vincent Concessao of Delhi told a press conference. India's constitution is secular, but most of its billion-plus citizens are Hindu. About 2.5 percent of Indians are Christians.The remote and forested Kandhamal region is rife with religious tension. Hardline Hindus accuse Christian priests of bribing poor tribes and low-caste Hindus to change their faith.Christian groups say lower-caste Hindus who convert do so willingly to escape the highly stratified and oppressive Hindu caste system.There have been attacks on Christians in Orissa and other parts of India in previous years. In 1999, a Hindu mob killed Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two children by burning them in their car in Orissa.Christians in eastern India have condemned this week's killing of the Hindu leader.Police blamed the killings on local Maoist rebels taking sides in a controversy over religious conversions, but Hindus say Christians were to blame.Police say by attacking Hindus the Maoists were trying to win support among the region's poor tribes, most of whom had converted to Christianity.