( dpa ) - The United States on Friday condemned violence against Christians in India that has escalated in recent weeks, leaving about 20 dead and thousands homeless.
"We urge all parties to refrain from violence and urge government officials to protect religious freedom throughout India and thus preserve India's longstanding tradition of religious tolerance," Thomas Hanford, ambassador at large for international religious freedom, said in Washington at the annual release of the State Department's International Religious Freedom Report.
Last weekend, at least 14 churches were ransacked by suspected activists of the Hindu right-wing Bajrang Dal organization in Mangalore, Udipi and Chikmagalur districts of the southern state of Karnataka. The Bajrang Dal activists said they were protesting against forced conversion by Christian missionaries in the region.
The attack on churches then provoked protests by Christian groups in Managalore Monday, as demonstrators threw stones in clashes with police and Hindu activists.
The incident follows attacks against minority Christians in Orissa's Khandamal district since August 24 that by one count have left at least 25 people dead.
The 800-page report analyzes the status of religious freedom around the world. The department singled out Myanmar, China, Eritrea, Iran, North Korea, Saudi Arabia, Sudan and Uzbekistan as countries of particular concern. Those nations have long drawn condemnation for their crackdowns on religious minorities or limits on religious expression.
In China, the US noted the closure of Protestant churches in Beijing during the Olympics, limitations on the Muslim Hajj and prohibitions on expressions of faith during Ramadan celebrations.