Page last updated at 19:00 GMT, Sunday, 21 December 2008

Mumbai attack hotels greet guests


The Trident-Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace hotels re-open

Two luxury hotels in Mumbai have re-opened less than a month after they were badly damaged in attacks on the city that killed at least 170 people.

The Trident-Oberoi and Taj Mahal Palace hotels were the scene of fierce battles between Indian forces and several gunmen which lasted for several days.

The manager of the Trident said it had been full of people when it re-opened.

Armed guards and sniffer dogs were stationed at both hotels and X-ray machines to screen their guests' bags.

About 80 guests and staff at the two hotels were killed as the gunmen went on a shooting spree through the buildings between 26 and 29 November.

Nine gunmen were killed and one is in police custody. Indian officials allege that they were linked to a Pakistan-based militant group.

Earlier, one survivor from the Taj siege told the BBC that that some guests had been shot and killed by the militants after police said it was safe to leave.

The senior policeman in charge of the operation in the hotel has denied the allegations against his officers.

'Deep pride'

Although sections of the hotels remain heavily damaged by the explosions and fire that engulfed them during the sieges, parts of the Taj and Trident were repaired sufficiently to receive guests on Sunday.

Security was tight, with metal detectors and X-ray scanners being used to check luggage and ID cards and "pat down" checks for guests. Armed police also manned barricades outside both hotels.

There is definitely a huge amount of sadness in everybody's mind
Rattan Keswani
President of Trident Hotels

A multi-faith prayer ceremony was held at the Trident for staff, guests and dignitaries before a more formal re-opening.

Maulana Sayeed Azhar Ali, member of the All India Muslim Personal Law Board, said the ceremony had been accompanied by an appeal for religious harmony.

"We quoted the verses of the Koran, and told everybody that the Koran abhors violence in all its forms," he said.

Rattan Keswani, president of Trident Hotels, said it had been completely full of people after it was formally re-opened.

"We didn't have a seat free in any of the restaurants, including the lobby lounge of the hotel," he told the BBC. "That would kind of indicate there was no reluctance to return to the hotel."

A hundred of the 550 guest rooms of the Trident section of the hotel would be occupied on Sunday night, he said.

A regular guest at the hotel, Kritika Shrinivasan, said returning had been a moving experience.

"We felt very emotional, we had tears in our eyes, because it felt so good to be back, to see the place open, to see all the employees and management, who are so warm, who are so hospitable - and they were literally welcoming us with open arms," she told the BBC.

Ratan Tata greets guests at the Taj Mahal Palace hotel (21 December 2008)
We can be hurt, but we will never fall
Ratan Tata
Owner of Taj Mahal Palace hotel

Later, just a few streets away at the Taj hotel, its assembled staff were greeted by returning guests with an emotional standing ovation.

More than 1,000 guests were invited to a re-opening party on Sunday evening at the hotel, where 268 of its 565 rooms in the modern Tower wing are available.

The 105-year-old main section of the hotel is still closed, however, as its ornate wood and marble interiors require extensive renovation.

"There is still much work to do, but we are all determined to rebuild the Taj brick by brick until it outshines even its former glories," said the hotel's owner, Tata Group chairman Ratan Tata.

"We can be hurt, but we will never fall," he added.

The names of the 31 staff and guests who were killed have been inscribed on the hotel's existing 2m-high "Tree of Life" sculpture, which was not damaged during the three-day siege, as a memorial.

The BBC's Chris Morris in Delhi says that as normal life returns to Mumbai, the consequences of last month's attacks continue to reverberate around the region.

India has announced wholesale reform of its intelligence and security systems.

And the government continues to insist that Pakistan must do much more to crack down on militant groups in the country.

India has blamed the attacks on the Pakistan-based militant group Lashkar-e-Taiba (LeT). LeT and the Pakistani government have denied any involvement.

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