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By Steve Herman
30 October 2008
Serial bomb blasts have rocked the Indian state, Assam, with most of the explosions taking place in crowded markets. India's government confirms at least 12 separate blasts, with police saying nearly 70 people have died and more than 330 have been wounded. VOA Correspondent Steve Herman reports from the Indian capital, New Delhi.
Coordinated explosions rocked crowded outdoor food markets throughout Assam within a short period just before midday Thursday.
|People carry a seriously wounded man near a blast site in Guwahati, India, 30 Oct 2008|
One of the injured survivors, S.K. Dutta, told News Live television in Guwahati he was on his way to buy vegetables when he was hit by one of the blasts.
Dutta, speaking with his nose bandaged, says after the explosion panicking shoppers and merchants ran away as fires broke out.
At least five of the blasts took place in Guwahati, the state's population center - where, as the smoke cleared and the extent of the devastation became evident - mobs turned on police and rescue workers.
Government vehicles and ambulances were pelted with stones and overturned. Fire trucks were also attacked by those apparently angry with the belated arrival on the scene by authorities.
Although Assam has been beset by separatist violence for decades, the serial bomb blasts are regarded as the worst terrorist attack in memory to strike India's multi-ethnic northeast.
One of the explosions took place only a few-hundred meters from the building housing the state's top elected officials.
Prime Minister Manmohan Singh was quick to condemn the attacks, blaming "divisive powers" who want to break up the country. He is calling for a united effort by the people of India to fight terrorism.
India's Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta says investigators are being sent to Assam to examine the explosive materials in hope of identifying who is responsible for the attacks.
"In Assam there are several different groups who have been involved in one way or the other in terrorist or insurgent-type of activities," Gupta said. "So, at this point in time, I would not like to speculate or point to any particular group which might be involved in this."
|A dead body is taken in a police vehicle after a blast in Gauhati, India, 30 Oct 2008|
Other politicians were willing to name suspects. Some direct suspicion on the state's most infamous militant separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Asom, known as ULFA. But it had been believed ULFA was seriously weakened after recent counter-insurgency operations by India's military.
Indian media say ULFA has issued a statement denying involvement in the blasts.
India's top opposition leader, L.K. Advani of the Bharatiya Janata Party, blames the governing alliance, led by the Congress Party, for failing to prevent a series of terrorist bomb blasts this year in the country.
Advani says illegal migrants from Bangladesh and their masters are likely responsible for the attacks in Assam.
Assam, with a population of 26 million and an agrarian economy, is best known for tea and silk. But the eastern Himalayan state is beset by poverty and competition between migrants, including those from Bangladesh, and local people. It has been wracked by separatist violence for decades.
Last month, clashes in Assam between indigenous tribes and Muslim settlers left nearly 50 people dead. Two other northeastern states were hit by bomb blasts in the past month.
Since India's independence in 1947, tens of thousands have died in separatist violence throughout the northeast.