India on alert after 200 die when bombs rock Bombay

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The Indian government declared a nationwide alert after 13 bombs rocked Bombay yesterday, killing nearly 200 people and injuring at least 1,100.

The death toll in the city is expected to rise as police and firemen unearth more charred bodies from the devastated areas. Most of the injured suffered burns and shrapnel wounds.

The first and biggest blast ripped through the ground floor of the stock exchange shortly after noon, shaking the 28-storey building and destroying 30 cars parked outside.

The explosion tore through the crowd of hawkers and tea vendors and throngs of investors outside. As smoke poured through the building, thousands of stockbrokers and officials on the upper floors stampeded. Some people on the lower floors smashed windows and then jumped into the street.

Over the next two hours, 12 other bombs exploded across Bombay. The second target was the Air India airline building, followed by several crowded bazaars, two hotels, two hospitals and a university. At least 80 people died when one bomb shredded a crowded bus.

A British High Commission spokesman in Bombay said that, so far, there were no reports of British tourists being injured by the blast, although the Air India building was often jammed with foreign travellers. Twenty bodies have been pulled from the charred debris of the building.

England's hockey team, in Bombay for an international tournament, escaped serious injury when one of the bombs went off on the 16th floor of Searock Sheraton Hotel. The players were near the swimming pool when the bomb went off. Some were cut by flying glass.

As the explosions jolted the Nariman Point business district, office workers fled high-rise buildings and ran for the railway and bus stations to escape from the city.

S B Chavan, the Home Minister, said he suspected the bombings were 'part of an international conspiracy' to create unrest in this teeming seaport of 13 million people. Mr Chavan claimed the explosive devices were more sophisticated than those used by Bombay's notorious gangsters.

The phrase 'international conspiracy' used by New Delhi officials is often a shorthand accusation against neighbouring Pakistan, frequently blamed for arming Muslim militants and separatist movements within India.

The bombings will delay Bombay's recovery from a wave of religious fighting in January, which left more than 500 dead and led to the flight of 40,000 slum-dwellers, mainly Muslims, from the city. The communal strife followed the destruction of a north Indian mosque by Hindu zealots. The anti-mosque campaign has carried the Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), the Hindu nationalist parliamentary standard- bearer, from the political fringes to become official opposition in less than a decade.