India train crash toll rises to 145

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The Independent Online

Normal rail services resumed across an eastern Indian state today, two days after a train accident blamed on Maoist rebels that killed 145 people, officials said.

Thirteen carriages of a high-speed passenger train derailed and then were hit by an oncoming cargo train in West Bengal state early on Friday. Police accuse the rebels of sabotaging the tracks.

The death toll climbed to 145 today, said Police Inspector General Surojit Kar Purkayastha.

He said at least 150 people, some with severe burns, were still in hospitals near the accident site in the small town of Sardiha, about 90 miles (150km) west of the state capital, Calcutta.

Railway workers and paramilitary soldiers working with blow torches, cranes and heavy equipment have pried apart the coaches of the two trains and cleared the track of the wreckage, said railway spokesman Soumitra Mazumdar.

"Normal rail traffic has resumed on the route, but we have advised drivers to slow down as they pass the Sardiha stretch," Mazumdar said.

Railway workers replaced a 46cm (18in) portion of track that had been removed by suspected rebels, officials said.

Police accuse a Maoist group, the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities.

Bhupinder Singh, the top police official in West Bengal, said the group's posters were found at the scene, taking responsibility for the attack.

However, a spokesman for the group, Asit Mahato, denied any role.

Today, local newspapers and television channels said a rogue rebel faction was responsible.

A railway safety commission will meet tomorrow to examine evidence from the crash site, officials said.

The Sardiha area is a stronghold of the rebels, known as Naxalites, who have launched repeated and often-audacious attacks in recent months despite government claims of a crackdown.

Thirteen days ago, the rebels ambushed a bus in central India, killing 31 police officers and civilians. A few weeks before that, 76 soldiers were killed in a rebel ambush - the deadliest attack by the rebels against government forces in the 43-year insurgency.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has often described the Naxalites as India's biggest internal security challenge. Analysts say the government's crackdown is hobbled by vacillating policies, poorly trained and ill-armed security forces and vast tracts of India where the government has little influence and where poverty has brought considerable support to the Naxalites, who claim to be fighting on behalf of the rural poor.

The rebels, who have tapped into the poor's anger at being left out of the country's economic gains, are now present in 20 of the country's 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry.