BHUBANESWAR, India (AFP) - Authorities in India insisted Friday they had halted deadly clashes between Hindus and Christians in the east of the country that have exposed the country to stinging criticism. At least 10 people have died and thousands have fled their homes as a result of the violence in the coastal state of Orissa, with the Catholic church accusing police of failing to protect defenceless priests and nuns. The Vatican and the Italian government have voiced serious concern over the religious violence, and on Friday Catholic schools across India were shut in protest. But Orissa state's chief minister, Naveen Patnaik, said the situation in Kandhamal, the district at the epicentre of the violence, was "fast returning to normal." "Riots in the other districts have been completely controlled," he said in Bhubaneswar, capital of the state where Australian missionary Graham Staines and his two young sons were burnt alive in 1999 " a crime for which a Hindu extremist was convicted. However, Roman Catholic officials said nuns and priests still feared for their lives in Orissa. "Priests and nuns are hiding out in the jungles because they've no protection from police," said Father Dominic Emmanuel, spokesman for the Delhi Catholic Archdiocese. Thousands of Catholic schools across the country, along with schools belonging to other Christian denominations, were shut to protest against the Hindu-Christian violence that he called "the worst in years." Hundreds of houses have been burnt to the ground and police were ordered to shoot rioters on sight after the violence erupted following the killing of a popular Hindu holy leader last weekend. Late Thursday, India's Prime Minister Manmohan Singh asked the Orissa chief minister "to take immediate steps to stop violence." The Italian government has said it will summon India's ambassador on Friday to stress the need for "decisive preventative and repressive action" to crack down on what it called "unacceptable" religious violence. The decision came after Pope Benedict XVI "firmly condemned" the violence. In Orissa, a senior government administrator Suresh Mohapatra told AFP that the state had opened seven relief camps sheltering nearly 5,000 people. "People are still coming to camps," he said, but added he expected the flow to end soon as "the riots have stopped." Victims in one relief camp in worst-hit Kandhamal district told harrowing tales. "The rioters destroyed my house. All of our family fled trying to save our lives. I've got a 13-year-old son and a husband who aren't here in the camp and I'm worried about their fates," said Sunama Pradhan, in her mid-30s. Others expressed relief at escaping with their lives. "My house was burnt, I've lost everything, I was lucky to escape unhurt," said Bulgen Degaul, 55. Authorities say 10 people have died, but government officials speaking on condition of anonymity say the toll is at least 16. Officials said at least 167 people had been arrested after rioters torched nearly 500 houses as well as Christian prayer halls and vehicles. Hindu-Christian clashes erupt periodically in India where 2.3 per cent of more than 1.1 billion population are Christians. Hardline Hindus accuse missionaries of "bribing" poor tribals and low-caste Hindus, who often face strong discrimination, to convert by offering education and health care.