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Last Updated: Monday, 25 September 2006, 21:53 GMT 22:53 UK
Air India bombing inquiry begins
By Lee Carter
BBC News, Toronto

Bal Gupta speaks at the Air India inquiry in Ottawa
Bal Gupta opened the inquiry with some emotional testimony
A public inquiry into the 1985 bombing of an Air India plane off the coast of Ireland has started hearing testimony in the Canadian capital, Ottawa.

The bombing of Flight 182, which left from Montreal, was carried out by Sikh extremists campaigning for a homeland in northern India.

The 329 dead included 280 Canadians, many of them of Indian descent.

Only one person has ever been convicted of the plot, and the trial of two main suspects ended in 2005 with acquittals.

The inquiry is the result of decades of lobbying by the victims' families.

Campaign promise

The inquiry, ordered by the Canadian government and presided over by a respected retired judge, opened with an emotional statement from a man who lost his wife in the bombing.

Bal Gupta said the disaster shattered his family.

"My late wife Ramwati Gupta, also known as Rama, was a jolly, loving and family-centred person. In June 1985, we had been married for over 20 years. As a mother and wife she was the centre pillar of our family," he said.

Mr Gupta is just one member of dozens of victims' families who have campaigned for such an inquiry.

But previous Canadian governments have put off calling one, hoping that the criminal courts would get to the bottom of the attack.

Victims' families were outraged by last year's acquittals of two suspects in the long criminal trial.

This belated inquiry into the tragedy was a campaign promise by the Conservative government of Prime Minister Stephen Harper, which took over the reins of power at the beginning of the year.

Although the inquest will not be able to second-guess the Vancouver court's verdicts in the trial, a key part of the investigation will be to examine turf wars between Canada's spy agency and the national police force.

These rows are believed to have hampered the original investigation. The judge's report is expected to be made public in September 2007.

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