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Monday, January 25, 1999 Published at 23:17 GMT

World: South Asia

Thousands mourn missionary's death

The murders have put the ruling party on the defensive

Thousands of mourners joined a silent funeral procession for the Australian missionary and his two sons who were killed at the weekend in an attack allegedly led by Hindu extremists.

Mike Wooldridge: Attack has increased pressure on government
The procession, which drew people from different faiths, took place in Barapada in Orissa, where Graham Staines had worked among leprosy sufferers for 34 years.

The procession ended amid reports that five more Christians had been beaten up in the northern Indian state of Uttar Pradesh, while distributing pamphlets.

In Barapada, many of the mourners were the local tribal people to whom Mr Staines, 58, had dedicated his life and work.

Mike Wooldridge reports on the aftermath of the attack
His sons, Philip, aged 10, and eight-year-old Timothy were burned to death with him as they slept in a jeep after a religious meeting.

While Graham Staines' wife Gladys and her daughter Esther led the funeral procession, the political repercussions of the murders reverberated through Delhi.

Political ties

Indian Prime Minister Atal Behari Vajpayee condemned the ''ghastly attack'' and called for swift action to catch the killers.

[ image: Mourners from all different faiths attended the funeral]
Mourners from all different faiths attended the funeral
Mr Vajpayee's Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), is coming under pressure for its links with the extreme nationalist group Bajrang Dal, which is believed to be behind the killings.

The BJP was put on the defensive, lashing out at its arch-rival, Congress, which governs Orissa.

The Australian Government has demanded action over the killings.

In a strongly-worded statement, Foreign Affairs Minister Richard Downer said: "Mr Staines devoted his life to serving others and it is unconscionable that he and his sons should have been killed in this way."

The killings triggered a massive police clampdown which led to the arrest of 49 people in connection with the murders.

Police have also launched a massive manhunt and announced a reward of 25,000 rupees ($600) for Dara Singh, leader of the Bajrang Dal.

Barjrang Dal has been blamed for the recent escalation of violence against Christians, but denies the murders.

The group has denounced Christian missionaries, claiming they use pressure on poor people to convert to Christianty.

'Christians no longer safe'

[ image: Churches have been burnt in recent months]
Churches have been burnt in recent months
A Christian delegation has now lobbied the Supreme Court to order the government to provide better security for Christians.

President of Bhubaneswar Christian Community BK Mudli said Christians would no longer feel secure in the country.

Diplomatic dispatch

Police said the incident occurred early on Saturday in the remote Keonjhar district. The village church was also burnt down.

The mob reportedly poured petrol over the car and beat back villagers who tried to rescue the family.

Australia has despatched a diplomat to Orissa to investigate the murders as family and friends prepare for the funeral.

Wife forgives mob

Gladys Staines told how her family tried to get out of the blazing car, but were stopped by the mob.

"My husband and sons tried to get out of the burning vehicle ... but were prevented by the attackers. More than 100 people attacked the car when they were fast asleep," she said.

Mrs Staines said her husband had faced strong opposition from some locals for his religious and social work.

She added: "I am terribly upset, but not angry. My husband loved Jesus Christ who has taught us to forgive our enemies."

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