NEW DELHI (AFP) - Prime Minister Manmohan Singh warned Monday of rising ethnic and communal tensions in India and blamed extremist elements for fuelling the violence. His comments came against a backdrop of unrest, particularly attacks by Hindus on Christians in eastern Orissa and southern Karnataka states, and clashes between Muslims and tribal groups in the northeast. "Perhaps the most disturbing and dangerous aspect today is the assault on our composite culture... we see fault-lines developing between, and among, communities," Singh told a conference of chief state ministers in New Delhi. Singh said the violence threatened what he described as India's proud "inheritance" of a multi-ethnic, multi-religious and multi-caste society. "There are clashes between Hindus, Christians, Muslims and tribal groups. An atmosphere of hatred and violence is being artificially generated. There are forces deliberately encouraging such tendencies," he said. India is officially secular but clashes between the majority Hindu community and minority Christians and Muslims erupt periodically. At least 35 people died in Hindu-Christian violence in Orissa following the killing of a hardline Hindu priest and four of his followers in August. Prior to Singh's address, a group of Church leaders, including the Archbishop of Delhi, Vincent Concessao, had issued a joint statement urging the government to protect Christians. "We must be allowed to profess our faith in honour and without fear," the statement said. The issue of anti-Christian violence in India was raised by Pope Benedict XVI on Sunday during a mass at the Vatican to canonise India's first woman saint. Attacks on Christians are just one example of a recent surge in communal violence here.