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India readies for festivals, police hunt bombers

October 30, 2005

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – India prepared for uneasy
celebrations for the biggest festival of the Hindu year,
marking the triumph of good over evil, as police hunted for
those behind three deadly blasts in the capital.

Officials say they have several leads over the bombs that
killed at least 59 people in Delhi on Saturday and are checking
an obscure Kashmiri militant group’s claim of responsibility.

With many still trying to trace dead or missing relatives
and friends on Monday, the city of 14 million was slowly
getting back on its feet on the eve of Diwali, the Hindu
festival of lights, and a few days before the Muslim Eid
al-Fitr.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who visited survivors on
Sunday and chaired an emergency cabinet meeting, blamed the
coordinated blasts on terrorists but would not speculate who.

Analysts say the Inqilabi Mahaz (Islamic Revolutionary
Group), which claimed responsibility, is likely a front for the
better known Pakistan-based Lashkar-e-Taiba (Force of the
Pure).

The blasts could be aimed at derailing the peace process
between India and Pakistan, which came close to war over
Kashmir in 2002, and moves to open border crossings in the
Himalayan region to help victims of this month’s earthquake,
they say.

“This is a Pakistani group and is a front organization of
Lashkar,” said Ajai Sahni of New Delhi’s Institute for Conflict
Management. Such fronts are often used to muddy the waters and
deflect blame from their parent groups, he said.

“One way or the other, Lashkar is behind it.”

Pakistani Information Minister Sheikh Rashid Ahmed said
militants would not be allowed to disrupt the peace moves.

“The government of Pakistan and government of India and the
whole world want that both nations should be friendly and solve
their problems peacefully and amicably,” he said on Sunday.

HIGH ALERT

Amid a high alert over the bombings, a special court is due
to sentence seven people on Monday convicted over a 2000 attack
on Delhi’s 17th Century Red Fort landmark that killed three
people and which was blamed on Lashkar.

Saturday’s blasts came as Indian and Pakistani officials in
Islamabad agreed to open the Kashmir frontier to help victims
of this month’s devastating Kashmir quake, the latest step in a
sometimes unsteady peace process opposed by some Kashmiri
rebels.

The attacks are also not seen hurting robust stock markets.

“The blasts are negative but I don’t see a major fall in
stocks … as the market has already been through a tailspin in
the past few sessions,” said Arun Kejriwal, strategist at
Mumbai research firm KRIS.

But in a week crammed with Hindu and Muslim festivities,
security has been stepped up for a one day cricket match
between India and Sri Lanka in the western city of Jaipur.

India has blamed previous militant attacks on
Pakistan-based rebels. However, the country is also racked by
scores of revolts and in May two blasts blamed on Sikh
separatists killed one person and wounded dozens at Delhi
cinemas.

Speculation centers on Lashkar and other Kashmiri groups
seen as having the skills and resources needed for such an
attack.

But Kashmir’s largest rebel group, the Hizb-ul-Mujahideen,
has said Islamic militants would never strike at civilians.

Delhi’s chief minister has appealed for people to stay away
from public areas for the next few days ahead of Diwali and
Eid.

While cheap hotels and lodges in a popular backpackers’
area hit by one of Saturday’s blasts report a dramatic drop in
foreign bookings, the scene at India Gate, a monument in the
heart of the city was like any other holiday on Sunday.

Dozens of teenagers played cricket on the lawns, and
domestic and foreign tourists wandered around taking
photographs.

“It is a sad event but life has to go on,” said Meenakshi
Dutta, visiting from Kolkata, formerly Calcutta.




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