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Hyderabad on the edge as blast toll mounts to 16

ACP says people are terrified because the blast occurred despite heavy security, reports Aditya Ghosh.
Hindustan Times | By Aditya Ghosh, Hyderabad
UPDATED ON MAY 20, 2007 02:26 AM IST

Although an official curfew was not declared the day after the blast at Mecca Masjid, the police did not allow any shops in the area to open. The death toll from the explosion and the subsequent police firing, meanwhile, rose to 16.

"We could not take any chances. A single spark could have led to a flare-up," said Assistant Commissioner of Police LK Shinde. "There is an undercurrent of panic."

Shinde said people were all the more terrified because the blast occurred despite the heavy security during Friday namaaz. "The blast caught people completely unawares. Normally, we post 250 to 300 policemen during the namaaz, so there was a sense of security and safety. That trust is shattered," he said.

Politicians were quick to make a beeline for the area even as the Andhra Pradesh capital observed a partial bandh to protest the deaths. Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil arrived with his convoy of 24 cars, accompanied by Chief Minister YSR Reddy and his fleet of nine cars. But residents were not impressed. Their complaints only got louder as the VIPs inspected the blast site.

"Police shut the area completely because of the VIP visits. We could not even get our daily provisions," said an angry Abdul Majid, who runs a utensil shop in the neighbourhood.

The people took to the streets to protest the deaths caused by police firing. They were also angry that the police did not allow afternoon prayers in Mecca Masjid. "The blasts took lives, and so did the police," said Mohammad Fasiuddin, member of the Charminar Peace Committee.

But the police defended the decision to fire. "The mob tried to set a petrol pump and some policemen ablaze. We had no option but to fire," said Charminar Division police officer B Reddena.

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