Girl killed, over 20 injured in Varanasi blast (Night Lead)

Tuesday, December 7, 2010

VARANASI - A girl just two years old was killed and more than 20 people, including a few foreigners, were injured when a bomb exploded on the bank of the Ganga during Tuesday evening’s ‘maha aarati’ watched by hundreds, sparking off a stampede, authorities and witnesses said.

Swastika Sharma succumbed to multiple splinter injuries and was pronounced dead by doctors following the deafening blast on the cemented steps leading to the holy river at the crowded Dashashwamedh Ghat between 6.15 and 6.30 p.m.

A doctor said the girl was just two years old.

As security forces went on high alert all across the country, Prime Minister Manmohan Singh denounced the bombing and appealed for peace and calm. The Bharatiya Janata Party also condemned the terror attack.

Police officials said an explosive device had apparently been concealed in a crevice on the steps where hundreds of men and women were seated to watch the evening ‘maha aarati’.

As several people fell down bleeding and injured, others desperately tried to escape, triggering a stampede that injured more people.

“It was such a powerful blast that we did not even know what had happened,” said Aveek Kumar Jain, who was at the ghat. “Nobody knew what had happened, whether it was a gas cylinder or a bomb.”

Jain said he saw one foreigner injured in the leg.

A man who suffered head wounds told reporters in the hospital that a nearby wall collapsed under the impact of the blast.

“I was telling my wife to see the river when this massive blast took place,” he said.

Home Secretary G.K. Pillai in New Delhi initially called it a “low intensity blast”, but in no time Uttar Pradesh Police officers classified it as a “medium intensity” explosion.

Pillai said the explosion injured four to five people and the “small stampede” that followed left 15-20 more people injured.

“It is too early to say what caused the explosion. We have issued a general alert to all states and told them to be on high alert,” Pillai said.

Blood was splattered at the site of the blast. Devotees fled from there, leaving behind their belongings. Women wailed in pain and panic, and police officers who rushed to the site desperately tried to bring calm.

Policemen and civilians rushed the injured to the nearest government hospital.

Uttar Pradesh Principal Secretary (Home) U.K. Bansal said that “one or two foreigners” were among the injured.

Additional Director General of Police Brij Lal said they would “work out the case” soon.

“The blast took place when hundreds of people had gathered at the Shitala ghat,” he said.

“It will be premature to make any comment on the nature of the blast. The blast was big enough to cause damage as well as panic and commotion in the entire area,” he said.

Varanasi, about 300 km from Lucknow, is one of the holiest Hindu cities. Twin blasts in the city March 7, 2006, killed 20 people and injured around 100.

Tuesday’s blast took place a day after the 18th anniversary of the demolition of the Babri Mosque in Ayodhya.

Filed under: Terrorism

will not be displayed