Independence Day of India turns into a tragedy

Separatist rebels have killed 22 people, many of them school children, in India and have wounded dozens in bomb and grenade attacks on independence day ceremonies in the troubled northeast and disputed Kashmir.

The children aged between 10 and 14 years were taking part in a parade in a far-off corner of insurgency-racked oil- and tea-producing state of Assam when a powerful bomb ripped through a college ground, police said on Sunday.

Several guerrilla groups in the northeast which shares borders with China, Myanmar, Bangladesh and Bhutan had called for a boycott of the independence ceremonies, saying it was a black day.

Tens of thousands of soldiers were placed on alert across the country and authorities closed off air space over New Delhi, where Prime Minister Manmohan Singh made a public speech, to ward off possible attacks during the celebrations.

A witness said most of the bodies of the children were burnt beyond recognition in the blast in Dhemaji town, 350 km (217 miles) from Guwahati, Assam's commercial centre, informs Reuters.

According CNN, an hour before the blast, another explosion took place in the nearby town of Dhakuakhana minutes before a parade could start there.

There were no casualties, Sharma said, adding that he also suspected separatist militants from ULFA in that attack.

The group has been fighting for a sovereign Assam since 1979. An hour earlier in New Delhi, Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh said his government would take a tough stand on terrorism.

"We will fight terrorism forcefully. Let there be no doubt about it. But if a group is ready to give up arms and talk to us, we are ready," Singh said from the Red Fort, a tradition followed by each prime minister since India gained independence from two centuries of British colonial rule on August 15, 1947.

Singh said cross-border terrorism was hindering the India-Pakistan peace process, but promised to continue efforts to end five decades of hostility between the South Asian nuclear-armed neighbors, AP reports.

ABCNEWS specify, that helicopters patrolled the skies while nearly 65,000 police and paramilitary troops were deployed on the ground to prevent any attack in the capital. The police blocked streets throughout central New Delhi and the airspace over the city was closed for five hours.

More than a dozen Islamic guerrilla groups have been fighting in Kashmir, a disputed Himalayan territory that is divided between India and Pakistan, since 1989. At least 65,000 people, mostly civilians, have been killed in the conflict.

India accuses Pakistan of training and arming the Islamic militants, a charge Pakistan denies.

An umbrella group of separatist organizations, the All Parties Hurriyat Conference, called for a general protest strike in Kashmir on Sunday, as they do each Independence Day, to express their rejection of Indian sovereignty.

After coming close to fighting a fourth war in 2002, Pakistan and India embarked on a peace process aimed at resolving their differences, including their conflicting claims to all of Jammu-Kashmir.

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