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Concerns Mount About Separatist Violence in Northeastern India


Merchants in Assam, in northeastern India, are staging a strike to protest a recent wave of fatal bombings and the inability of authorities to prevent attacks. VOA's Steve Herman reports from New Delhi on the violence that has been blamed on separatists in Assam.

Many shopkeepers lowered their shutters in the markets of Guwahati on Monday to protest a series of bombings in the capital of Assam. Business organizations called for the day-long strike to demand an end to the attacks blamed on separatists and to protest the inability of police and India's government to halt the violence.

On Saturday, a powerful bomb placed in a motorized rickshaw next to a maternity hospital tore through a market, killing seven people and injuring 30. It was the latest in a series of deadly explosions and other violent acts blamed on Assam separatists.

Assam's chief minister Tarun Gogoi told reporters in Guwahati on Sunday that the attacks are leading Assam "to the verge of devastation." He says the recent violence has already hindered development of the resource-rich state.

"It has definitely slowed down our progress, no doubt of it. But we're determined to deal with the situation, also because this terrorism will push Assam backward," he said. "It will lead to both the destruction of Assam, it will completely (ruin) the future of our students and create an unemployment problem more and more."

The chief minister, from the governing Congress Party, urged the leading separatist group, the United Liberation Front of Assam, known as ULFA, to halt the attacks and return to what he called "the national mainstream."

In the meantime, paramilitary forces have been sent to Assam because of fears of more bombings.

Indian media quote ULFA leader Jiten Dutta as taking responsibility for Saturday's explosion and warning of more attacks in coming days.

A cease-fire between ULFA and the Indian government collapsed last year.

Police say they shot dead two ULFA members in the Assamese capital during what they described as a fierce gun battle hours after Saturday's blast.

Authorities also say they discovered and defused a large bomb Saturday that was hidden inside a lunch box on a crowded passenger train headed for the area.

The recent attacks are seen as an attempt to intimidate non-Assamese living in the state and to rally support from the indigenous population, who are more closely related to Burmese and Chinese than to the Indian majority.

The separatists began one of India's longest-running insurgencies in 1979 and have used bases in Bangladesh, Bhutan and Burma across the porous border. The militants contend India's government does little for the Assamese while exploiting the region's tea crop, natural gas and other resources.

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