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India explosions death toll rises

A blast survivor in a hospital in Guwahati, Assam
Hospitals in Guwahati are flooded with survivors of the blast

The death toll in a series of bomb explosions in India's north-eastern state of Assam has risen to more than 70, the state's health minister says.

Himanta Biswa Sarma said 10 people who were injured in Thursday's blasts had died in hospitals during the night.

Police are going through the wreckage collected from more than a dozen sites hit by the bombings on Thursday.

They suspect the separatist United Liberation Front of Assam (Ulfa) is behind the blasts. It denies any role.

Security forces have been fighting separatist rebels in Assam for decades.

Search for clues

Police in Assam are examining the kind of explosives used and looking for any leads that could point them to who was behind the attacks.

Assam map

More than 300 people were injured by the bombs, most of which went off in the state's main city, Guwahati.

The explosions in Guwahati and the towns of Kokrajhar, Barpeta Road and Bongaigaon occurred within an hour of each other, after 1100 local time (0530 GMT).

The BBC's Subir Bhaumik in Guwahati says that some police argue that the attacks were so well organised that another militant group - possibly the Bangladesh-based Harkat-ul-Jihad al Islami (HuJI) - could also have been involved along with Ulfa.

But our correspondent says that so far there is little concrete evidence to support this contention.

There have been a number of major bomb attacks in India in the past few months, many of them blamed on local Islamist groups.

Local separatists have been held responsible for recent explosions in north-eastern cities.

Two north-eastern state capitals - Agartala in Tripura and Imphal in Manipur - saw serial explosions this month. At least 20 people were killed and more than 100 injured in the blasts.

Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh, who represents Assam in the upper house of parliament, is due to visit the state.

India's federal home minister, Shivraj Patil, and opposition leader LK Advani are already on the ground to assess the situation.

Mr Advani's BJP party has been very critical of the government following the bomb attacks targeting major Indian cities in the past few months.

'Desperate for survival'

Ulfa has been blamed for engineering similar serial blasts in Assam in the past.

Analyst Jaideep Saikia told the BBC that the group had been behind 11 such serial bombings in the state since 2002, with between 10 and 40 people killed in each attack.

For the past 10 years, the group has been blamed for bombings targeting gas and oil pipelines, oil depots and areas populated by migrant workers.

Assam blast
Intelligence officials blame the United Liberation Front of Assam

Assam police intelligence chief Khagen Sharma told the BBC that the latest bombings proved that Ulfa was "desperate for survival and does not mind killing even local people indiscriminately".

The group began an armed rebellion against what it describes as colonial rule by Delhi in 1979. Thousands of people have died in the violence.

An effort to start peace talks between the rebels and the Indian government broke down in 2006.

The rebels are seeking a separate homeland for the Assamese people and demanding that non-indigenous people, particularly Hindi and Bengali speakers, leave Assam.

Separately, seven policemen and a surrendered insurgent were killed in an ambush by a group called Black Widow in the state's North Cachar Hill district late on Thursday, police said.

The breakaway tribal rebel group, who have regularly attacked security forces and expatriate workers, is fighting for an independent homeland for the Dimasa tribe.

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SEE ALSO
In pictures: Assam bomb blasts
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Q&A: What hopes for peace in Assam?
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'Fourteen killed' by Assam rebels
15 May 08 |  South Asia
Nine die in fresh Assam violence
08 Jan 07 |  South Asia
Settlers killed in Assam violence
06 Jan 07 |  South Asia
What hopes for peace in Assam?
20 Oct 06 |  South Asia

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