Indian villagers kill five for 'witchcraft': Police

NEW DELHI (AFP) - Villagers in a rural part of eastern India have killed five women whom they accused of practising witchcraft, police said Saturday.

Police in eastern Jharkhand state said a group of assailants dragged the women out of their huts and beat them to death at around midnight Friday in their village, some 30km from state capital Ranchi.

"A group (of villagers) dragged the women out and beat them to death with sticks, accusing them of practising witchcraft," Ranchi deputy police chief Arun Kumar Singh told AFP by phone.

Singh added that 24 villagers have been arrested over the killings of the women, who were mostly aged between 45 and 50.

Belief in witchcraft and the occult remains widespread in some impoverished areas of India.

In some cases women are stripped naked as punishment, burnt alive or driven from their homes and killed.

Some states including Jharkhand have introduced special laws to try to curb crimes against people accused of witchcraft.

Jharkhand Chief Minister Raghubar Das condemned the latest killings in a statement on Saturday, urging society to "ponder over it".

"In the age of knowledge, this incident is sorrowful".