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Bomb blasts rock Varanasi, 21 killed

OUTRAGE IN TEMPLE TOWN: A body being removed from the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi after a bomb blast on Tuesday. - PHOTO: PTI

OUTRAGE IN TEMPLE TOWN: A body being removed from the Sankat Mochan temple in Varanasi after a bomb blast on Tuesday. - PHOTO: PTI  

Over 62 injured; terrorists target Sankat Mochan temple, railway station; security stepped up nationwide

Varanasi: Three bomb explosions ripped through this holy city, killing at least 21 persons and injuring 62 others at a crowded temple and a railway station.

The police found two other bombs near the city's main cremation site on the banks of the Ganga.

Immediately after the blasts, the police were put on high alert in several parts of the country and security was stepped up at places of worship, vital installations and government buildings.

Temple was crowded

The first blast took place inside the Sankat Mochan temple adjacent to the Kashi Vishwanath temple. The bomb went off around 6.30 p.m. when the temple was teeming with devotees during the evening pooja. An eyewitness said a marriage ceremony was in progress at the temple.

``The blast was so powerful that it could be heard across the town ... we have moved five or six badly-burned dead,'' he said.

``Everyone was running. There were corpses lying around,'' another witness told a television news channel. ``There was almost a stampede.''

Rescue workers struggled in the city's narrow lanes to cart out the victims, said the people on the scene.

Minutes later, another bomb went off in the holding area of platform one of the Cantonment railway station.

The third blast occurred in a crowded coach of the Shiv Ganga Express just before it was to leave for New Delhi. The compartment was packed with people going on vacation ahead of the Holi.

An official said 10 persons died at the temple and 11 at the railway station. Eight of them were women, he said.

``We are counting the bodies as they are coming in. There is confusion everywhere and all I can say of now is that three of the eight are young girls,'' he told AFP by telephone.

Around 62 people were injured, some in critical condition, he said.

Kalam appeals for calm

President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam condemned the blasts and appealed for calm and peace.

A Rashtrapati Bhavan spokesman said the President condoled the loss of lives and conveyed his sympathies to the bereaved families.

He wished the injured speedy recovery.

``The President is sure that the State Government is taking all possible steps to help the victims and to maintain peace there,'' he said.

Congress president Sonia Gandhi said the incidents were ``mindless acts of terrorism'' and expressed her deep concern and anguish at the loss of lives.

Ex gratia

A red alert has been sounded in Uttar Pradesh. Chief Minister Mulayam Singh Yadav announced an ex gratia relief for the victims and appealed to the people to maintain peace and order.

In a statement in Lucknow, he said the culprits would not be spared. ``Stern action will be initiated against all those found involved in the incident.''

He announced an ex gratia of Rs. 5 lakh to those killed in the blasts, Rs. 1 lakh to those seriously injured and Rs. 50,000 to those with minor injuries.

Patrolling has been intensified throughout the State, especially in those areas where communal clashes took place last Friday. PTI, UNI

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