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Sunday, February 15, 1998 Published at 12:23 GMT


Violence mars India's election run-up
image: [ The death toll in Coimbatore has risen to 46 following Saturday's serial bombings ]
The death toll in Coimbatore has risen to 46 following Saturday's serial bombings

BBC Delhi correspondent Mike Wooldridge: "BJP leader almost certainly the target" (2'11")
The Indian authorities have arrested 20 people as the death toll from Saturday's bomb attacks in the southern city of Coimbatore rises to 47.

More than 200 people were injured when 17 separate explosions tore through the heart of the old textile town.

The blasts came in the run-up to India's general elections, which start on Monday, and sparked rioting between Hindu and Muslim mobs.

Troops were rushed to the city in the state of Tamil Nadu with orders to shoot rioters on sight. Gatherings of more than five people have been banned.

On Sunday Tamil Nadu police conducted a series of raids on houses in the centre of Coimbatore.

In one raid six suspected Muslim militants were killed when a bomb they were about to hurl at police blew up.

BJP leader the likely target

The bombs exploded shortly before L K Advani, the president of the Hindu nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party (BJP), was due to address a rally on the last day of campaigning in the state before parliamentary elections.

The BJP is widely perceived as anti-Muslim although it has tried to soften its image and has appealed to Muslim voters for support.

Most of the devices had been placed in cars.

The bombs, including one near the site of rally, went off in the middle of the afternoon. The locations included a government hospital, railway station, town hall and near a bus station.

Saved by late arrival

[ image: The textile town of Coimbatore is in Tamil Nadu state.]
The textile town of Coimbatore is in Tamil Nadu state.
Mr Advani escaped injury because he was behind schedule and arrived in Coimbatore after the explosions.

The BJP leader said he was the target of the blasts.

He said: "The first blast took place barely 200 feet from the stage. It is only because I reached Coimbatore late that I was not present at the spot.

"Had the meeting started at the scheduled time, the consequences would have been unimaginable."

Muslim radicals suspected

[ image: LK Advani was saved by arriving late for his rally]
LK Advani was saved by arriving late for his rally
No-one has admitted responsibility for the violence but more than 500 people have been detained across Tamil Nadu since the bombings, including the leaders of the Al-Umma and the All-India Jihad Committee.

Both are Muslim organisations which have been declared illegal by the state government.

Designed to disrupt elections

The Indian President, KR Narayanan, condemned the bombings which came two days before polling begins.

He said: "The blasts are clearly an attempt to disrupt the election process which has been proceeding largely in a peaceful manner."

The BJP has forged an alliance with the southern regional party All India Dravida Munnetra Kazhagham (AIDMK) in Tamil Nadu for the elections.

Campaigning ended on Saturday in 222 of the parliamentary seats for which voting will take place on Monday. A total of 545 seats is at stake.

The latest opinion polls show the BJP well ahead but short of the support needed to form a majority in parliament.

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