Dozens killed in coordinated India blasts

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The Independent Online

A series of coordinated bombs brought death and terror to the north-east Indian state of Assam, killing at least 56 people and leaving 342 wounded.

At least a dozen devices were detonated in cities and towns across the state, famed for its tea plantations. Cars and buses were left ablaze and bodies were scattered across the streets in the aftermath.

Five blasts hit the state capital, Guwahati, killing 25 people, said Subhash Das, a senior official in the state's Home Ministry. A further eleven were killed in Kokrajhar district and 12 more died in the town of Barpeta.

Pankaj Goswami, who witnessed one of the blasts in Guwahati, told Reuters: "The impact of the blast was so huge, a packed bus got half burnt and we pulled out a lot of injured people and sent them to hospital."

Last night there was no claim of responsibility for the blasts, which happened at around 11.30am, but there was no shortage of speculation. Assam has been the location of a long-running separatist insurgency and there have also been previous bomb attacks blamed on Islamic militants from neighbouring Bangladesh, with which it shares a border. Earlier this month at least two people were killed and 100 injured in four bomb blasts in Assam that police said were the responsibility of groups from Bangladesh.

Reports said one of the latest blasts happened in a high security zone that contains a court building as well as the homes and offices of senior police officials. A number of the other bombs were detonated in crowded market areas.

Television images showed some people lying on the streets, their clothes soaked in blood. Those who were able to walk were helped into ambulances by local people and police. Later, angry crowds threw stones at police and ambulance crews and the authorities imposed a curfew.

"I was shopping near the secretariat when I heard three to four loud explosions. Windowpanes in the shops shattered and we fell to the ground as the building started shaking," said HK Dutt, who was wounded by an explosion in Guwahati. "I stood up and saw fire and smoke billowing out, then I looked down and saw blood on my shirt and realised I had been injured."

India, which prides itself on its purported religious and ethnic tolerance, has been the subject of a wave of recent bomb attacks, including explosions in Delhi and the western city of Ahmedabad in Gujarat. Police have blamed Muslims for most of the attacks though right-wing Hindus are also suspected of carrying out some of the blasts. At least 600 people have been killed in the last six years, with the deadliest attack taking place in 2006 when 180 were killed when explosions targeted commuter trains in Mumbai.

The country has also seen a flurry of communal and regionalists clashes. The eastern state of Orissa has been home to attacks on Christians by Hindu mobs that have left at three dozen people dead and a further 50,000 forced from their homes. There has been violence in the city of Mumbai, stirred by a regionalist political party and Assam, too, has seen clashes between indigenous tribes and Muslim settlers that killed at least 47 people.

The separatist United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) has for decades been fighting for an independent homeland for the state's 26m people. While it is not clear how much popular support the separatists have, they argue that the federal government in Delhi has seized the region's mineral and forest resources while failing to provide adequate development for the people of Assam.