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Brief curfew in India city day after bombs kill 80

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

JAIPUR, India —  The seven bombs that tore through this historic city ripped apart Sumana Khan's life, killing her mother and two aunts and leaving the 4-year-old girl with a broken arm, a fractured leg and shrapnel embedded in her back.

Lying in a crowded hospital Wednesday, Khan and the nearly 200 other wounded were in some ways among the lucky _ they survived. Eighty others became the latest deaths in a seemingly endless series of bombings that have terrorized Indian cities in recent years.

Most attacks, like Tuesday's in Jaipur, have hit soft targets _ crowded markets, packed temples, congested trains, mosques filled with worshippers. And with authorities repeatedly blaming Islamic militants for the bombings, each has brought fears of fresh violence between India's Hindu majority and its sizable Muslim minority.

Soon after the attack, officials suggested that blame would eventually fall on Pakistan and the Islamic militant groups that India accuses its neighbor of backing.

Authorities moved quickly Wednesday to prevent any retaliatory bloodshed, imposing a curfew in Jaipur's walled old city, where all the explosions took place, and deploying police in force.

The result was empty streets and shuttered stores in a city known for its pink-hued palaces and ornate jewelry.

But by evening, the curfew was lifted and people flocked onto the streets, buying groceries and going to prayers, saying they were determined to carry on with life.

"We have nothing to fear," said Vijendra Kumar Sharma, 39, a businessman. "The people in this city are very peace loving; this is the work of outsiders."

When the bombs went off, Sumana Khan's family was shopping while on vacation in Jaipur where they were visiting relatives of her mother.

"The entire family was wiped out," said an inconsolable Liaqat Khan, Sumana's grandfather, his body wracked with sobs as he was being driven home from a cemetery where his three daughters were buried Wednesday morning.

Sumana didn't even get to see her mother buried. She was lying in the Sawai Man Singh hospital with a drip hooked to her arm and bandages all over her small body.

"She's so traumatized that she hasn't said a word all day," said Mohammed Iqbal, an uncle who was taking care of her at the hospital while her father, who was not with the family during the blast, attended the funeral.

"Last night she kept asking for her mother, but we haven't told her she is dead," Iqbal said.

Police in Jaipur had questioned nearly a dozen people without making any arrests. However, police released a sketch of a man in his early 20s who was believed to have bought bicycles used in the attacks.

Most of the bombs were placed in bags left on bicycles, and investigators traced them all to two shops in Jaipur's old city, Inspector General of Police Pankaj Singh said.

Vasundhara Raje, chief minister of Rajasthan state, of which Jaipur is the capital, said the bombers might have been aiming to stir up sectarian tensions. "But there is peace in the city. The curfew is a precaution," she said.

Her view was echoed by residents of Jaipur, who said they did not want to see more violence.

"Neither the Hindus or the Muslims here want to fight," said Mohiuddin Qureshi, a gemstone trader who works in a market that was bombed.

"Our lives are together, our businesses are together. This is the work of outsiders," said Qureshi, who went to 10 burials Wednesday.

No group claimed responsibility for the attack, as is the case with most bombings in India.

The attack came a week before India's foreign minister, Pranab Mukherjee, is scheduled to visit Pakistan to discuss the rivals' four-year peace process. Officials said he plans to press Pakistani leaders to act against Islamic militants.

"The absence of violence and stopping cross-border terrorism is a very high priority for India," Foreign Secretary Shiv Shankar Menon told reporters in New Delhi.

But he stopped short of alleging Pakistan had a hand in Tuesday's attack.

"We are still in the process of investigating. I don't want to jump to conclusions," he said.

Kashmir, the disputed Himalayan region at the core of the India-Pakistan rivalry, has in the past week also seen some of the worst violence in recent memory.

Indian soldiers in Kashmir came under fire trying to stop militants from crossing the frontier with Pakistan last Thursday, and 11 people died during fighting between security forces and Islamic militants Sunday and Monday.

Indian authorities say Pakistan-based Islamic extremist groups were behind those incidents and a spate of bombings that have killed nearly 400 people in this predominantly Hindu country of 1.1 billion people since 2005. Pakistan, an overwhelmingly Muslim country, denies any role in the bombings.

The attacks have ranged from July 2006 train bombings that killed nearly 200 people in Mumbai, India's financial center, to small blasts like the one that struck a Muslim shrine in Rajasthan last year, killing two people.

Copyright 2008 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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