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Serial blasts rocked Delhi's Paharganj, Sarojini Nagar Market and Govindpuri areas on Saturday. Detailed account

india Updated: Oct 30, 2005 05:05 IST

Three deafening blasts rocked crowded shopping centres in the Capital on Saturday, three days ahead of the Diwali festival, killing at least 55 people and injuring 155 others, including some foreigners, police said.

The first blast was reported at around 5.40 pm from the crowdedPaharganj area, popular with foreign backpackers, and among the most congested areas in central Delhi close to the New Delhi Railway Station.

The other explosion occurred soon after inSarojini Nagar, another busy shopping area in south Delhi, popular among the middle class and even foreigners.

Soon after there were reports of similar blasts from a few other areas, including Govindpuri, also a teeming market, in south Delhi.

Police immediately ordered all shopping centres in the capital to shut and appealed to the people to go back home, throwing a damper on the celebratory mood ahead of the grand festival of lights.

"I appeal to the people to please go back to their families immediately. They will feel secure when they see their relatives," Home Minister Shivraj Patil said.

The almost simultaneous explosions occurred within hours after a city court deferred sentencing a Pakistani national and his six Indian accomplices who have been convicted of staging a terrorist attack at the Red Fort December 2000, in which three people were killed.

Additional Sessions Judge OP Saini had on Monday convicted Asfaq Ahmed of Pakistan and his Indian accomplices Nazir Qasim and Yusuf Farooqui of waging war against India, a charge that carries the death penalty. The sentencing has been deferred to Monday. Four others have been convicted of lesser charges. Four people have been acquitted in the case.

Minister of State for Home Sriprakash Jaiswal did not rule out the hand of terrorists, saying it was the "handiwork of those who were backed by anti-India elements."

As the news of the blasts spread, the security around Prime Minister Manmohan Singh -- who was about to board a flight from Agartala in northeastern India for Kolkata -- was stepped up, his aides said.

He expressed "deep shock" over the incident and talked to Delhi Chief Minister Sheila Dikshit, appealing to the people to remain calm.

"No terrorist can win over the people of India," Manmohan Singh said.

"From preliminary observations, it can be said the explosives were kept in a cycle rickshaw or a motorcycle. At least 40 are injured and six to eight people have expired," Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul told reporters in Paharganj.

Asked if there was a pattern in the blasts, Paul said: "It is too early to say that but we will work it out." The primary task before the police is to ensure that there is no panic and the injured are tended to immediately, he added.

First Published: Oct 29, 2005 17:59 IST