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58 dead in blasts in New Delhi

Terrorists cited in attacks on bus, markets

NEW DELHI -- Near-simultaneous explosions rocked the Indian capital yesterday evening, tearing through a bus and two markets crowded with people shopping for gifts for a Hindu festival. At least 58 people were killed and dozens wounded in the blasts, which the government blamed on terrorists.

Police declared a state of emergency and closed all city markets. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged calm while denouncing the apparently coordinated bombings.

''India will win the battle against terrorism," Singh said in a statement, according to top adviser Sanjaya Baru.

While he did not say who was suspected in the explosions, the Indian government faces opposition from dozens of militant organizations, from tiny fringe groups to well-armed Kashmiri insurgents who have previously attacked New Delhi, including a bloody 2001 assault on parliament. Some of those groups fiercely oppose the India-Pakistan peace process, which began early last year.

The explosions also came hours after India and Pakistan began talks on opening their heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to bring food, shelter, and medical aid to victims of the Himalayan region's massive Oct. 8 earthquake, which killed about 80,000 people, most in Pakistan.

Pakistan condemned the multiple attacks in New Delhi.

''The attack in a crowded marketplace is a criminal act of terrorism. The people and government of Pakistan are shocked at this barbaric act and express deep sympathy with the families of the victims," a Foreign Ministry statement said.

Foreign Secretary Jack Straw of Britain said the blasts ''appear to have been targeted at heavily populated areas to produce maximum carnage."

''This is yet another example of terrorists' cynical and callous disregard for human life," Straw added. ''On behalf of the British government, I would like to offer the people of India my support and deepest sympathy."

The first explosion hit New Delhi's main Paharganj market, leaving behind bloodstained streets and mangled stalls of wood and twisted metal. Within minutes came an explosion at the popular Sarojini Nagar market and the bus blast in the Govindpuri neighborhood. Police said at least 60 people were wounded in the first blast and dozens in the other two.

The attacks targeted the many people shopping just days before the festival of Diwali, a major Hindu holiday during which families exchange gifts, light candles, and celebrate with fireworks. The markets where the blasts occurred often sell fireworks that are elaborate and potentially dangerous.

''When I got up, there were people everywhere -- they were bleeding and screaming," said Anil Gupta about 45 minutes after the blast as he sifted through the wreckage of his jewelry store. Scattered around his feet were bracelets, necklaces, and earrings.

Home Minister Shivraj Patil urged people to stay off the streets. ''I appeal to you. Please disperse from the markets and go back to your families," he said in a televised address.

Patil said 39 people were killed in Sarojini Nagar, a popular shopping district in the southern part of the city filled with everything from knockoff designer clothing to kitchen crockery.

Sham Lal, an official with New Delhi's fire department, said at least 16 people died in the Paharganj market blast and three others were killed on the bus. He gave no other details.

Babu Lal Khandelwal, a shop owner in the Paharganj market, an area near the train station packed with small shops and inexpensive hotels often filled with foreign backpackers, said the blast knocked him to the ground.

''There was black smoke everywhere," he said. ''When the smoke was cleared and I could see, there were people bloody and people lying in the street."

The blast occurred in a small square in the market and badly damaged a row of shops, including Khandelwal's clothing store. About an hour later, investigators stood around a small, debris-filled crater about 10 feet from the string of shops.

Govind Singh, who sells wallets and toys from a cart next to a juice shop devastated in the explosion, said at least five people from his village were killed.

The explosion was ''so loud that I fell down. Then a fire started," he said.

''I took out at least 20 bodies; most of them were children," Singh added.

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