School children among 22 killed in Indian blasts

 

Separatist rebels killed 22 people, many of them school children, in India today and wounded dozens in bomb and grenade attacks on independence day ceremonies in the troubled northeast and disputed Kashmir.

The children aged between 10 and 14 years were taking part in a parade in a far-off corner of insurgency-racked oil- and tea-producing state of Assam when a powerful bomb ripped through a college ground, police said.

Several guerrilla groups in the northeast which shares borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan had called for a boycott of the independence ceremonies, saying it was a black day.

Tens of thousands of soldiers were placed on alert across the country and authorities closed off air space over New Delhi, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a public speech, to ward off possible attacks during the celebrations.

A witness said most of the bodies of the children were burnt beyond recognition in the blast in Dhemaji town, 350 km (217 miles) from Guwahati, Assam's commercial centre.

"The bomb exploded under the feet of the children. There is blood and human flesh all over the ground," said school teacher Jiban Saikia.

Seven women were among the dead, including teachers and mothers who had come to watch the children participate in the march-past.

India's northeast is home to dozens of insurgent groups, some demanding more autonomy and others secession. Most of them accuse New Delhi of plundering the region's rich resources and flooding it with outsiders.

"It was a most cowardly thing to do," Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi told local television stations, placing the blame on the powerful United Liberation Front of Asom.

Separatist militants also struck in Kashmir, lobbing a grenade into a school in Baramulla district and wounding 15 people who had gathered for the independence day ceremonies, police said.