GUWAHATI (India): Indian soldiers shot dead 10 villagers in the volatile northeast yesterday, mistaking some of them for militants, as guerillas set off three bombs during Republic Day celebrations in the region.
The soldiers fired on a crowd of about 5,000 people who attacked them with knives, sticks and stones in the village of Hajo on the outskirts of Guwahati, the region's main city, where troops went to hunt down guerillas believed to be hiding there.
“They thought the militants were in the crowd, but finally when local police identified the bodies, they turned out to be local villagers. There were no militants among the victims,” said police inspector general Khagen Sharma.
Hundreds of policemen have since been sent to the village to prevent a fresh outbreak of violence.
In Guwahati itself, suspected members of the outlawed United Liberation Front of Asom (ULFA) set off two bombs at a heavily guarded parade ground during Republic Day celebrations but no one was wounded in the blasts.
The bombs exploded in quick succession on a deserted stretch of the ground where Assam state's governor, chief minister and other officials had gathered for Republic Day ceremonies.
“There was nobody there, that part of the ground was off-bounds. There are no casualties,” a police officer said. Another bomb went off in a drain in Bongaigaon town, 150km west of Guwahati, but again no one was hurt.
Police blamed the attacks on the ULFA, which had called for a boycott of Republic Day ceremonies in the oil- and tea-rich state of Assam.
The group is fighting for independence, accusing the federal government of plundering the state's resources and neglecting the welfare of the locals.
India is marking its founding as a republic in 1950 with military parades, flag-hoisting ceremonies and cultural shows across the country.
The first Guwahati explosion took place when a bomb, hidden in a drain in a far corner of the parade ground, exploded moments after a convoy carrying Assam Chief Minister Tarun Gogoi arrived.
Fifteen minutes later, a second bomb detonated inside the ground just as Assam's governor, Ajai Singh, was inspecting a military guard of honour.
“There was black smoke, there was a lot of dust,” a reporter said. “A dance troupe ran in different directions in panic.”
But officials went ahead with the flag hoisting and parade ceremonies, despite the blasts. – Reuters
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