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Bomb Explosion Kills 12 in India as New Delhi, Islamabad Vow to Fight Terrorism - 2004-08-15

In India, at least 12 people have been killed and several injured in a powerful bomb blast in the northeastern state of Assam. The explosion took place as India and Pakistan celebrated their independence from British rule with vows to crush terrorism and improve relations with each other.

The bomb exploded in a college in the town of Ghemaji in the insurgency-wracked northeastern state of Assam, where dozens of school and college students had gathered to participate in a ceremony to mark the 57th anniversary of India's independence.

Many of the victims were young students. The attack triggered protests in the remote town, which lies about 450 kilometers east of the state's biggest city, Guwahati.

Police officials blamed the blast on the United Liberation Front of Assam. It is one of several militant groups in India's northeast that are seeking independence or autonomy from New Delhi - and had called for a boycott of Independence Day celebrations.

The blast took place just an hour after Prime Minister Manmohan Singh pledged to fight terrorism. Mr. Singh made his remarks to the nation from the ramparts of the historic Red Fort in New Delhi.

The prime minister says India will tackle violence and terrorism forcefully, but he says he is willing to negotiate with any militant group that will give up its arms.

India has been fighting Islamic insurgents in Kashmir since 1989, and a host of ethnic militant groups in several northeastern states like Assam for many years. These groups often target Independence Day ceremonies.

As Mr. Singh spoke, helicopters patrolled the skies and tens of thousands of police were deployed to guard against terrorist attacks in the capital and other parts of the country.

Mr. Singh also promised to continue efforts to end five decades of hostility with neighboring Pakistan. The two countries embarked on a peace process earlier this year to end their differences.

Mr. Singh said he will pursue the dialogue with sincerity and resolve, but warned that cross-border terrorism can make the task more difficult. India complains that Islamic insurgents in Kashmir operate from Pakistani territory, a charge Islamabad denies.

In Pakistan on Saturday, President Pervez Musharraf also vowed to crush Islamic militancy. Speaking at Independence Day celebrations, he appealed to his citizens to reject extremism, saying Pakistan must present a "soft" face to the world.

"That is what was envisioned by our founding father in 1947. A progressive, dynamic, moderate Islamic state," said Mr. Musharraf.

The Indian subcontinent became independent in 1947, after being divided by Britain into predominantly Hindu India and Muslim Pakistan.