Over 50 Killed in India Marketplace Bombings
LIANE HANSEN, host:
Tragedy and terror struck in India this weekend. In southern India Saturday, a train tumbled into a river killing at least 110 people, and, in New Delhi, bombs exploded in two crowded markets and next to a bus Saturday evening, killing at least 57 people. In India, terrorist attacks are often immediately blamed on Pakistan-backed militants, sharply raising tensions between the two neighbors. This time the reaction has been different, as NPR's Philip Reeves reports from New Delhi.
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PHILIP REEVES reporting:
Angry and stunned store owners clear up after a large bomb which was intended to kill and maim civilians and which did so. The bombers struck on one of the busiest weekends in India's capital a few days before the Hindu festival of Diwali and the Muslim feast of Eid. Shoppers were out in force. Most of the victims died here in New Delhi's popular Sarojini Nagar market. Eyewitness Rip Gosein(ph) says it was an enormous blast.
Mr. RIP GOSEIN (Eyewitness): I could see the fireball in the air with lots of smoke and people running from here and there. I seen people in front of me dying and screaming.
REEVES: Police in Delhi have begun making raids and arrests, concentrating on Delhi's cheap hotels. People have been thronging to hospitals in search of information on injured or missing relatives and friends. An evidently distressed Prime Minister Manmohan Singh has sought to console his jittery capital, saying the attacks were cynical and premeditated.
Prime Minister MANMOHAN SINGH (India): These are dastardly acts of terrorism aimed at the people of our country. These terrorists wish to spread a sense of fear and suspicion among our peace-loving people.
REEVES: Indians often see the hand of Pakistan in such attacks and especially that of Lashkar-e-Taiba, Kashmir's most militant group. On the streets of Delhi today, this view wasn't hard to find. This man, Vikay Sherma(ph), is in no doubt the attackers were Pakistan-based Islamist militants.
Mr. VIKAY SHERMA: They're Pakistan-based and America knows who are the people.
REEVES: But India and Pakistan have moved a long way from the days when they were amassing their armies amid a threat of a nuclear war. They're trying tentatively but persistently to build a peace after more than half a century of hostility. After the blasts, Indian officials were careful not to attribute blame. Milot Pal Basu(ph) is a senior member of the leftist bloc upon whose support the Indian coalition government depends. He, too, warned against jumping to conclusions, saying it's too soon to be sure who did these bombings.
Mr. MILOT PAL BASU: I think that is the biggest problem in this fight against terrorism. You are fighting an invisible enemy and you do not know and if they choose such soft targets.
REEVES: John Elliott(ph), a journalist who's been covering Indian affairs for two decades, says there will be pressure from the Indian government's opponents to take a tougher line with Pakistan over militancy. The opposition Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party is already accusing the government of being soft on terror, but Elliott expects India and Pakistan's peacemaking efforts to proceed.
Mr. JOHN ELLIOTT (Journalist): I think the relationship will continue. I think the talks and the contacts between the countries will continue. Relations have improved in the past year and that means that the damage to the relations will be less than it would have been. If this had happened a year or two ago, there would have been--not by war, but there would have been huge tensions on the border.
REEVES: Proof of the new climate in South Asia came after the bombings. Officials in India and Pakistan agreed to open some crossing points across the heavily militarized cease-fire line that runs through the disputed region of Kashmir. It's to help provide relief for victims of the South Asia earthquake.
Philip Reeves, NPR News, New Delhi.