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THE TRIBUNE SPECIALS
50 YEARS OF INDEPENDENCE

TERCENTENARY CELEBRATIONS
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N A T I O N

Death toll in mosque blast 16
Hyderabad, May 19
The death toll in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast has escalated to 16, even as the police investigation into the incident indicated the role of terrorist outfits. Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekharar Reddy confirmed that while 11 persons were dead in the explosion, another 6 lost their lives in police firing on unruly mobs.
A securityman keeps vigil at the premises of the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on Saturday after a bomb blast on Friday killed 14 persons and injured several others In videos (56k)

A securityman keeps vigil at the premises of the Mecca Masjid in Hyderabad on Saturday after a bomb blast on Friday killed 14 persons and injured several others.
— PTI photo

All-party peace meeting on May 24
Kolkata, May 19
The all-party peace meeting on Nandigram will be held on May 24 at Mahajati Sadan, the decision of which was conveyed to mediapersons jointly by senior FB leader Ashoke Ghose, mediator and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee after a meeting today.



EARLIER STORIES


A homeless girl makes bamboo baskets on the banks of the Mahananda in north-eastern city of Siliguri
A homeless girl makes bamboo baskets on the banks of the Mahananda in north-eastern city of Siliguri on Sunday. — Reuters

Dera row
Punjab will not be divided on sectarian lines: Congress
New Delhi, May 19
Expressing concern over the situation that has arisen in Punjab in the past few days, the Congress has appealed to the people in the state to maintain peace and social harmony.

RSS for Kalam’s two-party system
New Delhi, May 19
The Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh has come out in support of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s call for a need to evolve a two-party system stating that rampant regionalism could create hurdles in the path of country’s resurgence.

PM’s visit will ease burden on Musharraf
New Delhi, May 19
There may be a renewed diplomatic pressure from Islamabad on the Government of India for fixing specific dates for the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s much-awaited maiden visit to Pakistan later this year.

Mechanism to review status of grievances redressed: PM
New Delhi, May 19
Concerned about the plight of families of soldiers posted in far flung areas, Prime Minister Mamohan Singh underlined the need for a specific mechanism to effectively and urgently redress their problems.

PM’s principal secretary Nair to stay
New Delhi, May 19
The Prime Minister’s principal secretary T.K.A. Nair has been granted an extension of tenure. A seasoned civil servant of the Punjab Cadre, Nair was appointed principal secretary for a three-year term to the Prime Minister when Manmohan Singh took charge in May 2004.

Leela Ponappa appointed dy national security adviser
New Delhi, May 19
A retired Indian Foreign Service officer Leela Ponappa has been appointed deputy national security adviser and secretary to the National Security Council for a period of two years.

Girls outshine boys in CISCE exams
New Delhi, May 19
Girls have outperformed boys in both the Class X and XII examinations conducted by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination this year, results of which were declared today.

Indo-Sino joint military exercises soon
New Delhi, May 19
Seeking to take their military-to-military relations to a new high, India and China may soon hold their first-ever joint military exercise - an anti-terrorism manoeuvre, Army Chief General J J Singh said here today.

Rebels in truce on extortion spree
Guwahati, May 19
Insurgents belonging to the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), which is in truce with the Government of India, are creating trouble for at least two states of north-east India.

No dress code in Ajmer shrine: Dargah committee
Jaipur, May 19
In the backdrop of a controversy over a dress code for pilgrims visiting the Sufi shrine in Ajmer following the Katrina Kaif episode, the Nazim of the shrine’s Dargah committee today said he has only given some suggestions for maintaining decorum at the world famous pilgrim centre.

Dalit woman beaten to death in Bihar
Patna, May 19
At the time when its neighbouring state UP is ruled by the first Dalit Chief Minister, a Dalit woman Kari in Bihar was beaten to death by a former panchayat head and his kin on the suspicion of stealing their cow.

Videos
Mumbai on high alert after Hyderabad blast.
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John Abraham, Bipasha Basu arrive in Cannes.
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Trees married off to conserve forests.
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Death toll in mosque blast 16
Tribune News Service

A SIM card recovered by the bomb disposal squad from a mobile phone attached to an unexploded improvised explosive device (IED) revealed that it was purchased in the name of Bilal in West Bengal

Hyderabad, May 19
The death toll in the Mecca Masjid bomb blast has escalated to 16, even as the police investigation into the incident indicated the role of terrorist outfits.

Chief Minister Y.S. Rajasekharar Reddy confirmed that while 11 persons were dead in the explosion, another 6 lost their lives in police firing on unruly mobs.

Reddy offered apologies for the police firing, after realising that the local residents were angrier about the police killings than the blast itself. The police action led to angry outbursts from local residents against visiting ministers yesterday.

The day after the black Friday passed off without any major incidents of violence in the old city with police forces deployed in large numbers across the old city. Four companies of Rapid Action Force have been stationed to maintain the law and order.

Union Home Minister Shivraj Patil, who arrived here in the wake of the blast, said the Centre was prepared to order a CBI inquiry into the Masjid blast, if the state government asked for it.

Accompanied by the CM, Patil visited the mosque and the Osmania Hospital, where many of the injured have been admitted for treatment. Reddy said the state government would request for a CBI probe into the blast, if required.

Meanwhile, the city police, who maintained that the blast was a planned terror attack, is suspecting the hand of a former Hyderabadi Mohammed Abdul Sahed alias Bilal, in the incident, which was a bid to create communal tension in the area.

A SIM card recovered by the bomb disposal squad from a mobile phone attached to an unexploded improvised explosive device (IED) revealed that it was purchased in the name of Bilal in West Bengal.

Bilal, who works for terror groups like Lashkar-e-Toiba (LeT) and Jaish-e-Mohmmed (JeM), is said to be presently hiding in Saudi Arabia. Police sources said they suspect the hand of Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami behind the blast.

Patil, however, refused to name the mastermind behind the blast, saying it was too premature to jump to conclusions at this stage.

The city as well as several districts across the state observed a bandh protesting against the attack. Shops were closed, buses were off, the roads and several offices remained closed, fearing fresh outbreak of violence.

Police sources said the modus operandi of the blast and the technology used to trigger the explosive device suggested it was the handiwork of HuJI, a terrorist group that came into existence in 1992. The HuJI is believed to have close links with the Al-Qaeda and the Taliban.

Patil, who reviewed the situation at a meeting with Chief Minister Reddy and top state officials, told reporters, "We have no difficulty in ordering a CBI inquiry if the state government wants. We will sit together and take a decision after the conclusion of ongoing investigations." Declining to name the suspects, he said, "We have some information. But premature disclosure does not help in investigation." Treading cautiously on questions about external links, Patil said, "We should not keep blaming...We cannot say anything unless the final conclusion is given." The Chief Minister, who was attacked by the opposition over the police firing, too said his government had no objection to a CBI probe into the blast and the police action.

Buses stayed off roads and shops, business establishments and cinema halls were closed as the bandh called by the Majlis Ittehadul Muslimeen and other groups evoked a total response.

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All-party peace meeting on May 24
Subhrangshu Gupta
Tribune News Service

Kolkata, May 19
The all-party peace meeting on Nandigram will be held on May 24 at Mahajati Sadan, the decision of which was conveyed to mediapersons jointly by senior FB leader Ashoke Ghose, mediator and Trinamool supremo Mamata Banerjee after a meeting today.

The meeting was attended by Banerjee along with Partha Chatterjee and Sovandeb Chatterjee. Initially, it was decided that the meeting would be held on May 26, but the date had been advanced to May 24 since all senior leaders, including Jyoti Basu, Biman Bose and Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee will be away to Delhi for attending the politburo meeting.

But still it was uncertain if Bose and the CM will attend the meeting, as both had expressed their unwillingness to be present at the meeting on technical reasons. Jyoti Basu, who has been ailing, however, reiterated that he would attend the meeting if his health permits. Banerjee did not commit if she will be present or not. But she will certainly attend the meeting if Basu and other leaders are present.

Bose welcomed the decisions taken at the bilateral talks between Ghose and Banerjee. Congress (l) leader Somen Mitra said so far they had not been told either by the FB leader or any other about the meeting. He felt all parties fighting for the cause of the Nandigram people should be consulted before fixing the date and the venue of the meeting.

Mitra said the WBPCC (l) would certainly participate in the peace talk, if invited. The Congress (l) wanted peace and normalcy to be restored at Nandigram and elsewhere and accordingly they had been fighting from the very beginning on the Nandigram and Singur issues, he added.

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Dera row
Punjab will not be divided on sectarian lines: Congress
Prashant Sood
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
Expressing concern over the situation that has arisen in Punjab in the past few days, the Congress has appealed to the people in the state to maintain peace and social harmony.

The party’s coordination committee of Punjab, which met today for the first time since it was formed about a fortnight back, criticised state Chief Minister Parkash Singh Badal for attempting to blame the Congress for the deterioration in law and order situation.

The Congress said any activity that hurts the religious sentiments of any section of the society, should be avoided. Pointing out that maintenance of law and order was essentially the responsibility of the state government, the meeting conveyed its full support to the Punjab government in its efforts to restore peace in the state.

The meeting, attended by AICC general-secretary Janardan Dwivedi, union ministers Ambika Soni and Ashwani Kumar, CLP leader Rajinder Kaur Bhattal, PCC chief Shamsher Singh Dullo and party leaders Jagmeet Singh Brar, Manish Tiwari, Iqbal Singh, Darbari Lal, Mohinder Singh Kaypee and Brahm Mohindra, also briefly discussed the organisational matters and strategy for the forthcoming local bodies elections.

Expressing its resolve to not let Punjab be divided on sectarian lines, the committee said Congress had always stood for respect to all religions and faiths.

Former state Chief Minister Capt Amarinder Singh was not present in the meeting.

Sources said the committee members were of the view that state government had been slow in reacting to the situation and conveyed their concern over possibility of hardline elements coming to the forefront. With the spectre of the past violence looming large over people’s mind, the members said that foremost priority in the state was restoration of law and order. They said no one should be allowed to inflame the sentiments of people or seek political mileage from the situation.

Stressing the need to remove any misunderstanding among people, the members said everybody should contribute to peace.

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RSS for Kalam’s two-party system
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
The Rashtriya Swyamsevak Sangh (RSS) has come out in support of President A.P.J. Abdul Kalam’s call for a need to evolve a two-party system stating that rampant regionalism could create hurdles in the path of country’s resurgence.

An editorial in the RSS weekly journal ‘Organiser’, also claimed that BJP partners in the NDA alliance were not allergic to Hindutva.

Globalisation has diluted the ideological purity of all political parties. This is an era of political churning, the editorial said.

The journal called the BJP and the Congress, India’s two distinct ideological poles, insisting that parties attached to them had a broad agreement on ideological format.

There is no doubt that a two-party system is ideal and that is how mature democracies in the West have evolved, the write-up said.

While regional parties have come to stay, national political outfits have stopped growing, the editorial pointed out.

Rampant regionalism could pose a danger to resurgent hopes of the 21st-century India. But the NDA and the UPA experiments have provided a relative level of stability, cementing two power blocs, it said.

The editorial attributed the success of the NDA to what it called the BJP’s strong ideological moorings, but said the experiment did slow down the saffron party’s own growth.

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PM’s visit will ease burden on Musharraf
Rajeev Sharma
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
There may be a renewed diplomatic pressure from Islamabad on the Government of India for fixing specific dates for the Prime Minister Manmohan Singh’s much-awaited maiden visit to Pakistan later this year.

The establishment here is sensitive to a point of view that this time Pakistan President Pervez Musharraf himself can seize the initiative of asking Prime Minister Manmohan Singh when the latter would visit Pakistan.

A visit by the Indian Prime Minister to Pakistan at this time can be a boon to Musharraf and successfully divert attention from the suspended Chief Justice Iftikhar Chaudhry saga.

From New Delhi’s point of view, however, it may not be the best time to go ahead with the Prime Ministerial visit to Pakistan. The political scenario and the law and order situation in Pakistan continue to be volatile. Presidential elections are due this year and there is a huge uncertainty on what role former Prime Ministers Nawaz Sharif and Benazir Bhutto are going to play in the elections. Then there is also the question of General Musharraf removing his Army uniform.

This correspondent understands that Musharraf could promise two incentives to India for obtaining an Indian prime ministerial visit to Pakistan - (i) resolution of one or two Indo-Pak bilateral disputes, and (ii) renovation of Katasraj temple.

Sir Creek is one bilateral dispute that is ripe for resolution. The Pakistan government already has a verbal commitment from Leader of Opposition L.K. Advani that he would be personally present at the time of inauguration of the renovated Katasraj temple. Significantly, the two points may be inter-related and convey a bi-partisan support in India to Indo-Pak peace process, an amenable situation for Prime Minister Manmohan Singh for undertaking a visit to Pakistan.

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Mechanism to review status of grievances redressed: PM
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
Concerned about the plight of families of soldiers posted in far flung areas, Prime Minister Mamohan Singh underlined the need for a specific mechanism to effectively and urgently redress their problems.

As the families of soldiers posted in remote border areas required expeditious attention, PM said the mechanism could comprise district and State officials and armed forces personnel.

Such a mechanism, the PM stressed can review the status of grievances redressed every quarter.

Addressing the 27th meeting of the Kendriya Sainik Board, here today, Dr Singh's suggestion assumes significance following the increase in cases of suicide and fractricidal killings both in the armed forces as well as the para-military forces in terrorism affected regions of the country.

The official probe into these incidents has attributed the suicides and fractricidal killings to increasing stress levels faced by the personnel due to worries about the well being of their families.

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PM’s principal secretary Nair to stay
Tribune News Service

New Delhi, May 19
The Prime Minister’s principal secretary T.K.A. Nair has been granted an extension of tenure.

A seasoned civil servant of the Punjab Cadre, Nair was appointed principal secretary for a three-year term to the Prime Minister when Manmohan Singh took charge in May 2004.

The extension appears to be open ended, according to official sources.

The Congress-led UPA government completes three years in office next week and unlike last time, the celebrations this time are low key.

Before becoming principal secretary to the Prime Minister, Nair was chairman of the Public Enterprises Selection Board. An IAS officer, who retired in 1997, Nair also served as secretary to former Prime Minister Inder Kumar Gujral. Nair was also chief secretary to the Punjab government.

The Manmohan Singh government has appointed revenue secretary K.M. Chandrshekhar as the new cabinet secretary. He will succeed B.K. Chaturvedi who retires next month after having been in office since July 2004.

A UP Cadre officer, Chaturvedi was given a year’s extension last year. After conducting interviews, the Prime Minister chose Chaturvedi as the cabinet cecretary.

An efficient and amiable bureaucrat, Chandrashekhar, a 1970 batch officer of the Kerala cadre, has been India’s permanent representative at the World Trade Organisation. Chandrashekhar will have a two year tenure as cabinet secretary.

Simultaneously, career diplomat and India’s ambassador to the US Ronen Sen has also been granted extension till March 31 next year.

Joining the Indian Foreign Service in July 1966, Sen’s extension comes in the wake of the Indo-US talks connected with the 123 agreement to facilitate cooperation in the sphere of civilian nuclear energy being at a critical stage with both sides endeavouring to iron out some key outstanding issues.

From May 1968 to July 1984, Sen served in the Indian missions in Moscow, San Francisco and Dhaka and has also been secretary to the Atomic Energy Commission. He was joint secretary to the Prime Minister from January 1986 to July 1991, overseeing foreign affairs, defence and science and technology.

Sen was ambassador to Mexico from September 1991 to August 1992.

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Leela Ponappa appointed dy national security adviser

New Delhi, May 19
A retired Indian Foreign Service (IFS) officer Leela Ponappa has been appointed deputy national security adviser (NSA) and secretary to the National Security Council for a period of two years.

The positions were approved by the appointment committee of the Cabinet (ACC), officials said here today.

A 1970-batch IFS officer, Ponappa retired in June after serving as an ambassador to The Hague. She is the first woman deputy national security advisor of the UPA government.

Ponappa also served as India's ambassador to the Netherlands. She was joint secretary in the MEA in charge of Bangladesh, Sri lanka and Myanmar. — TNS

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Girls outshine boys in CISCE exams

New Delhi, May 19
Girls have outperformed boys in both the Class X and XII examinations conducted by the Council for the Indian School Certificate Examination (CISCE) this year, results of which were declared today.

“This year saw the best ever results achieved in the CISCE examinations. Girls have done better than boys in terms of pass percentage in both the ICSE (Class X) and ISC (Class XII) examinations,” CISCE additional secretary G. Arathoon said.

In Class X exams, the pass percentage of girls was 98.53 per cent, while boys achieved 97.51 per cent. In Class XII exams, girls secured a pass percentage of 98.24 per cent, better than boys at 95.95 per cent, a press note said.

“The highest aggregate mark is 98.4 per cent for the Class X examination. A Kolkata boy has secured it. In Class XII, the highest aggregate mark of 98.75 per cent has been secured by a girl,” said Aroothan.

The board could not give details about the top scorers, as it was against the set policies, he added.

A total of 97,303 students appeared for the Class X examinations, while 45,293 students appeared for Class XII and around 44 per cent candidates in both were girls. — PTI

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Indo-Sino joint military exercises soon

New Delhi, May 19
Seeking to take their military-to-military relations to a new high, India and China may soon hold their first-ever joint military exercise - an anti-terrorism manoeuvre, Army Chief General J J Singh said here today.

“I am going to propose the holding of such manoeuvres,” the Army Chief said on the eve of his departure for Beijing on a weakling visit as the head of a tri-service delegation.

Though the Indian and Chinese Armies have held border bonhomie meetings, this would be first time that the two armies would be holding joint exercises.

“In principle, the Chinese have agreed to hold such an exercise,” the Army chief said, “but during the visit, we hope to work out the details and whether such a first-ever exercise would be held on Chinese or Indian soil.”

Besides Beijing, the Army Chief would be visiting Wuhan, Shanghai and Houng Zou to visit the rapid reaction force division of the People's Liberation Army, a Chinese air base and a naval base near Shanghai.

In Beijing, Singh would be the first-ever Indian Army chief to be received by Chinese vice-president Zeng Quinghong and also meet foreign minister Li Zhaoxing.

He would also hold intensive discussions with the deputy chairman of the Chinese Central Military Commission and the chief of general staff of the People Liberation Army. — PTI

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Rebels in truce on extortion spree
Bijay Sankar Bora
Tribune News Service

Guwahati, May 19
Insurgents belonging to the Nationalist Socialist Council of Nagaland (Isak-Muivah), which is in truce with the Government of India, are creating trouble for at least two states of north-east India.

The Manipur state government is very vocal against the NSCN-IM which has been involved in a peace process with the Government of India since 1997, for creating trouble in that state.

The same is the case in North Cachar Hill district of Assam where the NSCN-IM has been allegedly using its ally, Black Widow, a tribal militant outfit, to extort money on its behalf.

The Black Widow is an anti-talk faction of Dima Halam Daogah - a Dimasa tribal militant group now in truce with the Centre.

Manipur Chief Minister Okram Ibobi Singh has assured the state Assembly that he would knock at the doors of the government in New Delhi to complain against ‘illegal activities’ of the NSCN-IM in his state.

“I will convey to the central leaders, the serious concern of members of the House over illegal tax collection by Naga militants on national highways, particularly on Imphal-Kohima road,” Ibobi Singh said while assuring the Assembly that he was planning to take an all-party team to New Delhi to raise the issue there.

The NSCN-IM ultras have been creating trouble in a few districts of Manipur where they don’t even spare senior government officials in their extortion attempt.

Earlier this month, the deputy commissioner of Ukhrul district in Manipur, Pankaj Pal, fled to state capital Imphal after being intimidated by the NSCN-IM. Later he was persuaded to assume office by the state government.

The incident prompted Chief Minister Ibobi Singh to issue a warning to the NSCN-IM on May 15, asking the rebel group not to interfere with the administrative affairs in his state.

Similar situation is prevailing in Assam which has long borders with Nagaland. The Naga rebels often try to extort money from Assam’s tea estates located along the inter-state boundary areas.

In North Cachar Hills, the Black Widow group which, the police alleges, has close links with the NSCN-IM is known to serve extortion notices to traders and government servants working in the hill district. The district superintendent of police, B.B. Chetri has admitted to it and rued that few dared to lodge a complaint with the police.

The Centre has sent six additional companies of central paramilitary force to guard over the Rs 1,500 crore under-construction gauge conversion project of the Northeast Frontier Railway (NFR) that is under constant threat from Black Widow militants.

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No dress code in Ajmer shrine: Dargah committee

Jaipur, May 19
In the backdrop of a controversy over a dress code for pilgrims visiting the Sufi shrine in Ajmer following the Katrina Kaif episode, the Nazim of the shrine’s Dargah committee today said he has only given some suggestions for maintaining decorum at the world famous pilgrim centre.

The Nazim of Khwaja Moinuddhin Chishti’s tomb, Ahmed Raza today clarified no final decision has been taken on a dress code for ‘ziareens’ (devotees) but only some proposals have been given to the Anjuman committee of the shrine.

“I have just sent some proposals to the Anjuman committee where I had sought their consent over maintaining certain dress code in the shrine for male and female devotees. But, dargah khadims (servers) and the Anjuman committee has blown the issue out of proportion without reasons,” he told PTI over phone from Ajmer.

“No final decision has been taken yet,” he added.

The Nazim was responding to media reports that he has started the process of putting up dress code notices on board.

“There is a need to maintain decorum in the shrine after controversies where foreigners, tourists and even film actress Katrina Kaif came here in absurd dresses,” he said.

“I mean, I have just asked for rumaal or dupatta to be used by women devotees to cover their heads and for males, a shirt upto elbow and pants or trousers upto the knees. I don’t find anything wrong in it,” Raza said.

The khadims and some devotees have reportedly voiced resentment over the move for a dress code in the shrine saying measures are already in place and that the dargah committee does not have to come up with a dress code. — PTI

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Dalit woman beaten to death in Bihar
Tribune News Service

Patna, May 19
At the time when its neighbouring state UP is ruled by the first Dalit Chief Minister, a Dalit woman Kari in Bihar was beaten to death by a former panchayat head and his kin on the suspicion of stealing their cow.

The incident was also against the much discussed social engineering in India in the backdrop of UP politics under Mayawati that stitched the two extreme castes of the Hindu society.

The police said a cow of the former mukhiya of Dhansir panchayat in Gaya, Saroj Singh, got lost on Friday and he suspected the woman`s son of stealing it. Besides an important tool in agriculture,cow is still being considered as a symbol of "prestige" in Bihar's cowbelt politics.

Subsequently,Saroj Singh along with his relatives Manoj Singh and Sanjay Singh reached Kari`s house and ordered her to hand over her son. According to the victim's family,the son did not live there. As Kari pleaded her son`s innocence, Singh and his relatives started raining blows and kicks on the hapless woman. She was shifted to the Magadh Medical College Hospital last night in a serious condition where she succumbed to her injuries.

The locals blocked vehicular traffic at Sikaria linking Gaya with Bodh Gaya for several hours on Saturday demanding immediate arrest of the attackers.

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