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Five killed as Catholics and Muslims clash in Kerala

Five killed as Catholics and Muslims clash in Kerala

Author: UCAN
Publication: Union of Catholic Asian News
Date: May 18, 2009
URL: http://www.ucanews.com/2009/05/18/five-killed-as-catholics-and-muslims-clash-in-kerala/

Five people were killed and scores wounded when Catholics clashed with Muslims in the southern Indian state of Kerala.

According to Vinson M. Paul, Kerala's Inspector General of Police, one person was killed in sectarian clashes and three others died when police opened fire on crowds on May 17.

Another person injured by the police died a day later. All victims were Muslims.

The state administration has declared curfew in the area and deployed two companies of paramilitary troops.

The incident has marred the relief among many Indians that the secular national government has been returned to office for another five-year term. Church leaders say the election of the secular alliance was a vote against sectarianism.

Inspector General Paul said the police fired on a group that tried to attack a church in Cheriathura, a fishing hamlet near the state capital of Thiruvananthapuram. He said the trouble began on May 16 when Komban Shaji and his brother Rajan from Cheriathura, both Catholics, clashed with some Muslim traders in Beemapally, another coastal village.

M. P. Aziz, a Muslim leader in Beemapally, said the two Catholics had demanded money from the traders and a group of Muslim youths had chased the pair from the area on May 16. In retaliation, the two Catholic brothers had assaulted a Muslim who was traveling on a motorbike with his two children, near Cheriathura.

The two brothers were then joined by a crowd of around 20 who set fire to boats and fishing nets and damaged shops in Beemapally.

On May 17, Muslims marched toward Assumption Church in Cheriathura and attacked houses and boats. Police fired teargas canisters to disperse the crowd but the mob retaliated against the police with crude bombs and swords. Police fired 37 rounds and wounded 45 people who were admitted in a hospital in the state capital.

Babu Stanislaus, secretary of Cheriathura Residents' Association, dispute this version of events, saying criminal gangs, not Catholics, started the violence.

"The traders in the area are Muslims and a criminal gang used to exhort money from them. This led to the clashes," he said.

The police said Shaji was involved in several criminal cases, including drug peddling.

The civil authorities held a peace meeting between the two communities but they used the occasion to attack each other.

The troubled areas come under Trivandrum Latin-rite archdiocese. Father James Kulas, former vicar general, told UCA News the Church has already taken initiative to restore peace in the area.

"We denounce violence of any nature that affects communal harmony," the priest said and added that the archdiocese would support all government measures to bring order.

Father Kulas said Father Eugene Pereira, the current vicar general, spent the night on May 17 in the trouble spot and held discussions with police and administration officials.

Catholics and Muslims have alleged the police did nothing to prevent the violence despite several complaints. Oommen Chandy, leader of the opposition in the state legislative assembly, accused the police of handling situation lightly and demanded a judicial investigation.

Home Minister Kodiyeri Balakrishnan, who cut short his visit to New Delhi to return to Kerala, told UCA News the police would firmly tackle the situation.

"We will do all possible measures to reestablish peace in the area. I appeal to all not to fall into the trap set by the communal forces," he pleaded.

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