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India: Andhra Pradesh State Officials Injured in Landmine Blast - 2003-10-01

The head of India's southern Andhra Pradesh state and three other state officials have been injured in a blast set off by suspected Maoist guerrillas.

Police officials say a convoy of cars carrying Andhra Pradesh's chief minister Chandrababu Naidu and other state officials was hit by a landmine blast, as it traveled toward the famous Tirumala temple, about 250 kilometers northeast of Bangalore city.

Mr. Naidu escaped with relatively minor injuries because he was in a bullet proof car that saved him from the impact of the explosion. But officials say a state minister, Gopal Krishna Reddy, and two other lawmakers traveling with him are seriously wounded. They were taken to a hospital for treatment.

The officials were going to the Tirumala temple to take part in festivities at the start of the main Hindu festival season that begins this week. The shrine is visited by hundreds of thousands of Hindus every year. Security at the shrine had been tightened earlier this month for the festival season.

Police say the landmines were planted on a tree and triggered by remote control. The explosions hit the vehicles while they were on a forest road.

India's federal junior Home Minister I.D. Swami expressed concern at the attack in comments to Indian television.

"It was a cavalcade of Chandrababu Naidu and the chief minister which has been attacked," he said. "This is really very worrying for everybody, for the state government and for us also."

Police officials suspect Maoist guerrillas belonging to the outlawed People's War Group set off the blast. They say Mr. Naidu was on the hit list of the rebels.

The rebels are active in five Indian states including Andhra Pradesh. They frequently attack police posts and other government targets in these states as part of their decades-long campaign they say is for the rights of poor peasants. Three years ago, they were blamed for the killing of a state minister in a landmine blast in Andhra Pradesh.

Mr. Naidu is one of India's most high-profile politicians, and his regional party is a close ally of the Bharatiya Janata Party. He is well-known in the country for his efforts to turn his state into a high technology hub.