This is the personal blog of London photographer, backpacker, traveller Mark Coughlan. The intention of the blog is communicate updates from my personal website and on my photography projects and travels both in the UK and worldwide. When backpacking the obscure places on earth, this blog will be continually updated with images and thoughts from the road. [Read more about me]

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Jaipur bombings kill 63 people

Indian authorities imposed a daylong curfew in the historic city of Jaipur on Wednesday, the day after serial bombs tore through the pink-walled center of this western Indian city, killing 63 people and wounding more than 100.

Police officers and civic leaders shooed people off the streets in hopes of avoiding any Hindu-Muslim tension, and foreign tourists were restricted to their hotel rooms.

It was the first terrorist attack in many months. There were no further leads on who may have been responsible for the Tuesday evening bombings, eight explosions in all, according to A. S. Gill, director general of police for Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital.

“The intention obviously was to create communal disturbances,” he said, adding that nothing of the sort had yet materialized. “It’s totally peaceful.”

The police were interrogating several people, Mr. Gill said. The explosives had been attached to bicycles, the mangled ruins of which were found at the site.

India has already blamed “foreign terrorists" for the bombings, a phrase that usually refers to neighbor and nuclear rival Pakistan. Pakistan, however, has offered swift condemnation.

The blasts stand to test the peace process under way between the two countries, particularly under the stewardship of Pakistan’s newly elected government. The Indian Foreign Minister Pranab Mukherjee is due to visit Islamabad, the Pakistan capital, next week.

The bombs targeted the dense warrens of the 18th century walled city. One bomb went off in front of a temple to the Hindu god, Hanuman, which is particularly crowded with worshippers on Tuesdays. Others exploded within minutes of each other at busy intersections and in markets thronged with shoppers, including the popular Johri Bazaar, lined with jewelers. The dead and wounded included both Hindus and Muslims.

The police said nearly 40 funerals were expected to take place on Monday, and the curfew was intended to prevent inflaming communal passions.

In the pink stucco bazaar of the walled city on Wednesday morning, shops that normally peddle sweets, gold, and curled Rajasthani slippers were all shuttered. Onlookers wandered through the lanes to ogle at the bloody remains, only to be chased away when the curfew took effect.

“Hey brothers, why are you crowding around?” Ram Babu Agarwal, the member of a peace committee shouted.

“There is no communal thinking, only human sympathy,” declared Anwar Shah, a burly member of the Johri Bazaar mosque committee, as he patrolled the streets of this neighborhood hectoring people to stay inside.

The Indian federal government dispatched explosives experts Tuesday night, and put several major cities on alert, including New Delhi.

Although Jaipur, known as the pink city, is a popular tourist destination, mid-May, the peak of the Indian summer, is not a busy season, and no foreigners were killed or injured in the blast, according to police and hospital officials here.

Jitender Narwani, 31, had been offering prayers at the temple, when one of the bombs went off. Shrapnel punctured his legs.

Shahid, 16, a candle maker, had gone for a sip of water from a public tap in an area called Tripolia market when there was another blast.

Subhana Khan, 4, was shopping with her mother and two aunts in Johri Bazaar; they were all about to board a rickshaw at the time of another explosion. All but the little girl were killed.

The last major bombing in India was in August, when a pair of bombs went off in an outdoor auditorium and restaurant in the southern city of Hyderabad, killing more than 40.

Two years ago, serial blasts along the commuter train line in Mumbai, the country’s commercial capital, killed nearly 200.

Similar terrorist attacks aimed at religious sites in recent years have not succeeded in setting off sectarian violence. The Hindu holy city of Varanasi was struck by a pair of bombings in March 2006, killing 14. More than two dozen people were killed in September 2006 in a series of explosions in and near the largest mosque in Malegaon, and a blast killed two worshipers in one of the holiest Muslim shrines in Ajmer, also in Rajasthan, last September.

The curfew in Jaipur kept foreign tourists off the streets. A Spanish tour group was instructed to spend the day inside the Le Meridien Hotel on the edge of town before being taken by bus to another hotel in the evening for dinner.

David Manzanares, a tour leader, said his 104 people in his charge had been taking the events in stride. “We are Spanish people, we are used to having these kind of events,” he said. “Enjoy the pool. Have a samosa, See what happens.”

No sooner had he rattled off those instructions than a dust storm came swirling in from the Rajasthan desert, clearing the poolside and felling tall trees on the road.

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