Religion news in brief

Washington, USA - A series of violent attacks on Christians in India calls for a "strong and urgent American response," a broad group of U.S. Christian leaders urged President Bush in a letter.

"What has happened recently in India, and has been happening over the past few years, is tantamount to 'religious cleansing' of Christians and other minorities by extremists," said the letter signed by 24 Catholic, Orthodox, mainline Protestant and evangelical leaders. "This in the world's largest democracy that is a nuclear power and recently sent a mission to the moon."

The letter states: "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."

Since anti-Christian riots began in late August, rampages by Hindu hard-liners have left at least 38 people dead, as many as 30,000 homeless and dozen of churches destroyed. While the worst of the violence subsided when authorities finally deployed soldiers to set up checkpoints and relief camps, house burnings and beatings have continued and Christian villagers say they've been told they must convert to Hinduism.

In Orissa's Kandhamal district, widespread trouble began after the Aug. 24 killing of Swami Laxmanananda Saraswati, a hard-line Hindu leader who advocated that Christian converts return to Hinduism.

Police blamed Maoist guerrillas for the killing, but Hindu militants quickly turned on local Christians, The violence has since spread to other parts of India.