Eight Maoists get life imprisonment

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Eight persons, including a Maoist commander, were on Thursday sentenced to life imprisonment by a sessions court in Kandhamal district for the murder of senior VHP leader Laxmanananda Saraswati and four of his disciples in 2008, which triggered communal riots in the district.

Additional district and sessions judge of Kandhamal Rajendra Kumar Tosh sentenced Maoist commander Pulari Rama Rao alias Uday and seven others guilty of the murder of Saraswati and four of his disciples during Janmastami celebrations on August 23, 2008.

The judge also imposed Rs 10,000 fine on each of them and in case they don't pay the penalty, the convicts will have to undergo an additional jail term of 18 months, Public Prosecutor Anil Kumar Pradhan said. The judge, however, acquitted Somanath Dandasena alias Jadu for want of evidence.

Saraswati, 82, was celebrating Janmasthami with his associates and inmates of Shankaracharya Kanyashram at Jalespeta on August 23, 2008 evening, when the masked Maoists armed with AK-47 rifles shot him dead. On September 30 and October 1, the judge had convicted the eight.

The killing of Saraswati and his disciples triggered a riot that left 37 dead and hundreds of houses and places of worship burnt or destroyed in Kandhamal.

The sessions court of Kandhamal is yet to try main accused and senior Maoist leader Sabyasachi Panda and five others. Panda, expelled by CPI(Maoist) last year, is yet to be arrested.

Though the exact details of the judgement are yet to be known, during trial, the convicts told the court that the blueprint for Saraswati's murder was prepared well in advance by Panda, the head of Orissa State Committee of the CPI(Maoist). Apart from those who took part in the killing, there were several others who were entrusted with blocking roads and providing logistics support.

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