SRINAGAR, India – A key minister in the Indian portion of Kashmir (search) survived a second apparent attempt on his life Monday when a bomb exploded at a public rally, killing five people and wounding at least 50 others, police said.
Deputy Chief Minister Mangat Ram Sharma was at a public gathering in Kapran, a remote village in India's Jammu-Kashmir state, when the bomb went off near the speakers' podium, police officer Syed Ashiq told The Associated Press.
He and another senior Kashmiri ministers escaped injury, but state Power Minister Sharif Niaz suffered bomb splinter injuries in his legs.
The district administrator, Asghar Samoon, was critically wounded in the blast, and several other government officials were among those hurt.
The dead included a police officer, the injured minister's secretary, two women and a man.
At least 10 of the wounded were in critical condition, Ashiq said. A reporter for the local daily newspaper Urdu Al-Safa was among the injured.
Army helicopters flew the ministers and wounded officers to safety. The civilians were being treated in small hospitals nearby, most of which are ill-equipped for such emergencies.
"There was a huge bang and everything went up in a cloud of dust and debris," said Abdul Ghani Vakil, chief spokesman of the Congress party that is part of the ruling alliance. He escaped unhurt.
It was the second apparent attempt on Sharma's life in less than two weeks.
On July 13, suspected Islamic rebels hurled a hand grenade at his car, slightly wounding four policemen guarding the route of his motorcade, police said.
More than a dozen militant groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan since 1989. More than 65,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.
Kapran is about 50 miles south of Jammu-Kashmir state's summer capital Srinagar.
Also Monday, three rebels and a civilian were killed in separate shootouts in other parts of the state.
Indian (search) soldiers killed a suspected separatist rebel trying to sneak into the Indian portion of Kashmir near the disputed cease-fire line with Pakistan (search), an army officer said on condition of anonymity.
In the nearby village of Dewar, a villager was killed in crossfire between suspected rebels and the soldiers, the officer said, without giving details.
In another village about 47 miles south of Srinagar, a five-hour gun battle between soldiers and suspected guerrillas left two militants dead. Police said the two men belonged to Hezb-ul-Mujahedeen, the largest Kashmiri rebel group, but that claim could not be independently verified.
In Tawela, about 30 miles south of the city, at least two suspected rebels were killed in a shootout after troops raided a home.
New Delhi has long pressed Islamabad to stop the militants from entering Indian territory. Since India and Pakistan agreed to a cease-fire in November, infiltration attempts by militants have dropped significantly.
Pakistan and India fought two of their three wars since independence in 1947 over Kashmir but recently have made attempts to improve relations.