NEW DELHI – Near-simultaneous explosions rocked the Indian capital Saturday 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 (search) urged calm while denouncing the apparently coordinated bombings, which did not prevent an unprecedented India-Pakistan agreement to open the Kashmir (search) border to facilitate aid for survivors of the region's devastating Oct. 8 earthquake.
"These are dastardly acts of terrorism," Singh said in a brief televised statement. "We shall defeat their nefarious designs and will not allow them to succeed. We are resolute in our commitment to fighting terrorism in all forms."
Asked who was responsible, he would only say "there are several clues." The Indian government faces opposition from dozens of militant groups — particularly Kashmiri separatists, some of whom also oppose the peace process between Pakistan (search) and India.
The first explosion hit at 5:45 p.m. in New Delhi's main Paharganj market, leaving behind bloodstained streets and mangled stalls of wood and twisted metal. Within minutes, a second explosion rocked the popular Sarojini Nagar market and a bus exploded in the Govindpuri neighborhood. Police said at least 60 people were wounded in the first blast and dozens in the other two.
The attacks came just days before the festival of Diwali (search), a major Hindu holiday during which families exchange gifts, light candles and celebrate with fireworks. The markets often sell fireworks that are elaborate and potentially dangerous.
"There were people everywhere — they were bleeding and screaming," Anil Gupta said as he sifted through the wreckage of his jewelry store.
A few hours earlier, India and Pakistan had started talks that later led to an agreement to open the heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to help get food, shelter and medical aid to victims of the Himalayan region's quake, which killed about 80,000 people, most in Pakistan.
Opening the border is extremely sensitive for India because of a 16-year insurgency by Islamic militants in Kashmir who seek to make the Indian portion independent or unite it with Pakistan.
Despite the blasts, Pakistan's Foreign Ministry said early Sunday that the frontier would be opened at five spots beginning Nov. 7. Shipments of aid supplies will be allowed to cross at those points, and Kashmiri civilians will be allowed to cross on foot, with priority given to those with families divided by the border.
Pakistan also condemned the multiple attacks in New Delhi (search).
"The attack in a crowded market place 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.
Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice (search) said the attacks were "made more heinous in that they deliberately targeted innocent civilians preparing for holiday celebrations."
Rice said they were "another sad reminder that terror knows no borders and respects no religion."
Home Minister Shivraj Patil urged people to stay off the streets.
He said 39 people were killed in Sarojini Nagar. Fire department official Sham Lal said at least 16 people died in the Paharganj market blast, and three were killed on the bus.
Babu Lal Khandelwal, a shop owner in the Paharganj market, in an area near the train station packed with small stores 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 badly damaged a row of shops, including Khandelwal's clothing store. All around, broken glass and other wreckage littered the street, shop signs were ripped and twisted and clothes — mostly T-shirts and scarves — hung from low-strung power lines.
A witness to the second blast, Satinder Lal Sharma, said some boys warned him about an unclaimed bag near a tree and he "started shouting 'Run! Run!"' just before the explosion.
Govind Singh, who sells wallets and toys on cart next to a juice shop devastated in the explosion, said the explosion was "so loud that I fell down. Then a fire started."
"I took out at least 20 bodies, most of them were children," Singh said. He and others wrapped the bodies in sheets from one of the destroyed shops.
At Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, Dr. S.K. Sharma, the emergency room chief, said at least four victims arrived dead and "charred beyond recognition." Most of the shrapnel injuries were from flying glass.