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India Bombings Kill 32

February 14, 1998

MADRAS, India (AP) _ Thirteen explosions rocked a southern India town Saturday, killing at least 32 people and injuring 120, shortly before a Hindu nationalist leader was to address an election rally, police said.

The bombings sparked clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs, and police were ordered to shoot to kill the rioters in Coimbatore, 1,500 miles south of New Delhi, said police Commissioner Nanjil Kumaran.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts, but authorities suspected a radical Muslim group.

If the attacks were election-related, they would be the worst outbreak of violence in what has been so far an unusually peaceful campaign for parliament in India.

The explosions occurred over 90 minutes at a busy market, two restaurants, a bakery and a private residence. Three of the blasts were car bombs, said police, who have not released details of the other bombs.

The bombs killed at least 32 people, Kumaran said. It was not immediately known if anyone was injured in the rioting.

The bombings occurred nearly a half-mile from where Lal Krishna Advani, president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, was to speak. Advani, whose flight was delayed, was not in the town when the attacks happened.

Coimbatore, an industrial city with a population of 2.5 million, was the site of Hindu-Muslim clashes in November after two men belonging to a radical Muslim group allegedly killed a Hindu policeman. A total 14 people died in the fighting.

Residents of Coimbatore are scheduled to vote Feb. 22 in the second stage of the parliamentary elections, which end in March. Voting is staggered by region over six nonconsecutive days to allow paramilitary forces time to deploy at different trouble spots.

Also Saturday, a separatist group in the northeastern Assam state issued a statement warning of violence if people vote in general elections.

The United Liberation Front of Assam, which has been fighting for an independent homeland for nearly a decade, has killed three top political leaders in Assam in recent weeks.

About 40 percent of Assam’s 17,500 polling stations have been declared sensitive, said police Officer S.P. Ram, who oversees voting security. Thousands of armed policemen and paramilitary police have fanned out across the state, the country’s main tea-growing region.

Update hourly