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Blasts Kill 20 in Southern India

February 14, 1998

MADRAS, India (AP) _ A series of explosions killed at least 20 people in southern India shortly before a top right-wing Hindu nationalist leader was scheduled to address an election campaign meeting, police said.

A half-dozen explosions were reported over 90 minutes in a busy shopping center, eating places, a bakery and a house in Coimbatore town in Tamil Nadu state, 1,500 miles south of New Delhi.

Police blamed radical Muslims. No one claimed responsibility.

The explosions occurred nearly a half-mile from where Lal Krishna Advani, the right-wing Bharatiya Janata Party president, was scheduled to canvass support for his party in the Indian parliamentary elections.

Opinion polls indicate the party could win the most seats in the parliamentary elections but may fall short of a majority to form the government. The voting will be staggered over four days across India between Monday and March 7.

Advani reached the town after the explosions because of a delayed flight.

Extremist Hindu and Muslim groups have sprung up in Tamil Nadu state since the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party became a major political force in recent years.

Coimbatore was rocked by Hindu-Muslim clashes in November that killed 14 people. The rioting broke out after two men belonging to a radical Muslim group allegedly killed a Hindu policeman when he stopped them for a traffic violation.

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