At least 12 die in India blasts

Scores hurt as bombs rock Hindu temple and railway station

March 08, 2006|By LOS ANGELES TIMES

NEW DELHI -- Bomb blasts in a crowded Hindu temple and a railway station left at least 12 people dead and dozens seriously wounded yesterday in the holy city of Varanasi, government officials said.

One explosion rocked the Hindu Sankatmochan temple complex, one of the ancient city's oldest Hindu places of worship, as hundreds of people were gathered inside. The second bomb detonated minutes later at 6:35 p.m. in a railway station's second-class waiting room, police said. An express train bound for India's capital, New Delhi, was waiting at a nearby platform for a scheduled departure in 10 minutes.

"We saw people screaming in pain and running helter-skelter," railway police Subinspector Jawahar Lal said by telephone.

Volunteers who helped rush casualties to hospitals reported seeing at least 20 dead and nearly 100 injured, said Rolly Singh, who heads a local aid organization.

"Five to six people were lying half-dead," said Lal, one of the first officers on the scene. "They were so badly hurt that they could barely make any sound, let alone scream. We could count 20 to 22 others who were badly injured."

The blast left a crater several feet deep, Lal said.

"The sound was deafening," he added. "The foreign tourists' facilitation counter and the railway booking office were completely damaged, and the railway station superintendent, who sits at the booking office, was himself seriously injured."

Police were reportedly working to defuse another bomb at the railway station last night.

Varanasi is sacred to Hindus, who believe that if they die on the banks of the Ganges there, they will be freed from the cycle of death and reincarnation and achieve eternal bliss. Hundreds of bodies are burned each day in Varanasi's funeral pyres, and the ashes are spread in the river.

The city, which draws large numbers of foreign tourists, is about 450 miles southeast of New Delhi. Although it is most significant to Hindus, the city has sites holy to several faiths. It is an important Buddhist pilgrimage site and has Muslim, Christian and Sikh places of worship.

The attacks came four days after a visit to India by President Bush, during which hundreds of thousands of demonstrators, many of them Muslims and supporters of left-wing political parties, held mainly peaceful protests.

Varanasi is in Uttar Pradesh, India's most populous state, and police moved quickly last night to step up security amid concerns that the blasts could spark further violence.

After the blasts, Shahid Siddiqui, general-secretary of the left-wing Samajwadi Party allied with Prime Minister Manmohan Singh's coalition government, said he fears that India has become a target of "international terrorists and extremists" because the nation is moving closer to the United States.

Earlier yesterday, Singh promoted in parliament the civilian nuclear cooperation deal reached Thursday with Bush. India agreed to open some of its nuclear facilities to United Nations inspectors while keeping others closed for military purposes.

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