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37 die in Malegaon blasts
* Riots break out * Indefinite curfew imposed
Shiv Kumar
Tribune News Service

Mumbai, September 8
An indefinite curfew has been imposed in Malegaon town, 180 km from here, after riots broke out in the wake of bomb blasts this afternoon that claimed at least 37 lives. More than 200 persons were injured in the incident.

Police sources said at least four blasts took place within minutes of each other shortly after 1.45 pm when people were coming out in large numbers after the main Friday namaaz. While two bombs went off near the entrance of Noorani Masjid near the Bada Kabrastaan area, a third went off at Mushaberat Chowk. The first two bombs were disguised as goods on bicycles while the third was hidden in a flower bouquet, the police said. It is not clear where the fourth bomb went off. Two unexploded bombs were also recovered in Malegaon.

The tragedy occurred when people had congregated in large numbers to observe Shab-e-barat, a religious ceremony to pay respect to the dead. Most of the victims were part of a religious procession passing by when the bombs went off, according to the police. Many of the victims were children and beggars near the entrance of the mosque who were caught in a stampede following the blasts, the police said.

According to local journalists there were more than 2,000 people in the area when the blasts took place. A large number of the people were beggars who came from across the country on the occasion of the religious ceremony.

As the bombs went off there was a stampede to get out of the area. Several people, including women and children, were trampled in the stampede.

The police said more than 100 persons were injured in the blasts and the victims were rushed to hospitals as far away as Nashik and in Dhulia district.

According to sources in the town, riots broke out soon after the blasts as angry relatives besieged doctors and police personnel for information about their loved ones. Police personnel at the Malegaon Chawni police station had to fire in the air as the crowds surrounding the police station grew in large numbers.

About 10 rounds were fired after nearly seven policemen were injured in stone-throwing.

Elsewhere in the town angry residents attacked police personnel to vent their frustration. Reports from Malegaon said several police vehicles were also torched by angry mobs.

The Maharashtra government reacted quickly by imposing curfew throughout Malegaon to prevent the situation from getting out of control.

"The situation is tense but under control," Dr P S Pashricha, Director-General of Police, said. According to him the entire state of Maharashtra had been put on high alert.

Senior officials including Deputy Home Minister R R Patil were among those who visited Malegaon today.

The Anti-Terrorist Squad of the Mumbai police was also rushed to Malegaon.

Eight police teams from adjacent areas were sent to maintain peace. In addition 10 companies of the Rapid Action Force have also been deployed.

The town has a history of communal riots with the first recorded incident in 1962. Subsequent riots in 1984, 1992 and 2001 saw sharp communal polarization.

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