Protesters march through Assam after deadly blasts (India)

Demonstrators urge people to free society from elements who are the real cause of terror Eight held for attack on Indian ministers' convoy


GUWAHATI/ KOLKATA: A strike to protest against bombings that killed 84 people in India's troubled Assam state last week shut down the region on Monday, police said, with angry Indians blaming illegal Bangladeshi migrants.

Protesters marched through the otherwise deserted streets of Guwahati, the state's main city, where 44 people died on Thursday when three bombs exploded within minutes.

A little-known Islamist group has claimed responsibility for Thursday's blasts in the tea- and oil-producing state, the worst strike in the troubled region, which also wounded 300 people.

Police suspect that Islamist militants working with separatists in Assam were behind the bombings.

Several students' groups called the daylong strike across the state, demanding a crackdown on illegal settlers.

"We are going to intensify our campaign to drive out Bangladeshis from the region," said Samujjal Bhattacharjee of the Northeast Students Organisation.

"We also appeal to people to free our society from these elements who are the real cause of terror." Police said they arrested 50 protesters.

The Hindu-nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, India's main opposition has also criticised the government for not doing enough to stop Bangladeshi nationals from crossing over to India.

The Islamic Security Force-Indian Mujahideen sent a mobile telephone text message to a local television station claiming responsibility for the 11 apparently coordinated blasts that hit Assam within five minutes of each other last Thursday.

On Monday, suspected tribal insurgents shot dead three traders in central Assam, but police could not immediately confirm whether it was retaliatory attack, saying they were investigating the killings.

They suspect illegal Bangladeshi migrants could tell them more about the involvement of Islamist groups and have detained more than 100 in a crackdown across the northeast region.

"The people were working on construction sites and they failed to provide valid documents to prove their citizenship," a senior police officer said from Shillong, capital of neighbouring Meghalaya state.

A similar crackdown was under way in Manipur state, police said.

Eight held: Indian police arrested eight villagers in an eastern state for possible links with Maoist insurgents who triggered a blast aimed at senior government ministers, police said on Monday.

Six policemen travelling in the last car of a convoy escorting India's steel minister and the chief minister of communist-ruled West Bengal state were wounded in the landmine blast on Sunday. The ministers were not hurt.

The ministers had gathered in the Salboni area of the state, where JSW Steel Ltd, India's third-largest producer, has decided to set up a steel plant.

The attack struck at the heart of West Bengal's political machine, highlighting the growing reach of the Maoist insurgency that stretches across eastern, central and southern India.

The plant in West Midnapore district will produce 10 million tonnes of steel by 2020, but Maoist insurgents in the region have vowed to stop the project.

Many officials travelled to Salboni, a Maoist hotbed, as the government tried to woo back investors to the communist-run state after India's Tata Motors moved its small car plant from the state last month after violent protests over a land row.

In West Midnapore, police found a 2.5-km long wire, which had been attached to the landmine. They said it had been remotely detonated. "We are worried, since it occurred very close to Midnapore town," Anup Bhushan Vohra, the state police chief, said on Monday after visiting the spot about four hours' drive from Kolkata, the state capital.

Security experts said Sunday's attack was an example of how Maoists are gradually making inroads into towns and cities.

Maoist rebels have dropped pamphlets in the district in the past urging villagers not to give land for the project and some experts warned it could be a repeat of Singur, where Tata had set up a sprawling factory only to dismantle it later. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh had earlier described the four-decade-old Maoist rebellion, which has killed thousands, as the single biggest threat to India's internal security. reuters

Von: 04.11.2008,

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