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Bombs exploded today at a crowded vegetable wholesale market...

By RAVI SHARMA

AMRITSAR, India -- Bombs exploded today at a crowded vegetable wholesale market in a Punjab town and outside a Hindu temple in Amritsar, killing at least 28 people and wounding almost 100 others.

Police in New Delhi said two explosive devices were discovered in an eastern residential section of the capital and defused by bomb disposal experts. It was not known who planted the devices, police said.

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The Amritsar bombing occurred at about 8:20 p.m. Monday outside the Shivala Bhaian temple, dedicated to the Hindu god Shiva, as about 2,000 worshipers -- mostly women and children -- thronged around the shrine for a weekly prayer meeting.

Police and hospital sources said five people died at the scene and 18 more succumbed to injuries between Monday night and Tuesday evening. At least 69 others were being treated for wounds in hospitals. Hospital sources said some of the injured were expected to die because of their severe wounds.

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Authorities did not know who was responsible for the attack.

Officials did say Sikh extremists fighting to create in Punjab the independent theocratic nation of Khalistan, or 'Land of the Pure,' were responsible for another bombing in the wholesale produce bazaar in Dina Nagar, 50 miles north of Amritsar.

The explosion occurred at 6:15 a.m. as about 200 people crowded into the bazaar for the regular daily produce auction.

D.S. Kalah, deputy superintendant of Gurdaspur District, in which Dina Nagar is located, said the bomb was concealed in a polyethylene bag left outside a shop and detonated when someone picked up the sack to investigate its contents.

At least five people were killed and 28 others injured, many of them hospitalized with severe burns, he said.

Kalah said the victims were all from Punjab's minority Hindu, Moslem and Christian communities, members of which run the produce bazaar. Most of the farmers who patronize the market are Sikhs.

He and police in the state capital of Chandigarh said the bomb was similar to eight devices planted by extremists in and around the nearby town of Pathankot on May 20 that killed 12 people and wounded 80 others.

Authorities said the Pathankot attacks were staged to prove the extremists remained defiant after security forces on May 18 ousted heavily armed militants from the Golden Temple of Amritsar, Sikhdom's holiest shrine, after a 10-day siege in which 45 people died.

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More than 1,200 people have been killed this year in Sikh extremist-related violence in Punjab and the neighboring predominantly Hindu state of Haryana. The dead include militants, Hindu civilians, Sikh and Hindu politicians opposed to Khalistan, security forces, public officials and suspected police informers and their families.

One witness to Monday's blast in Amritsar said many people had their clothes burned off and ran screaming from the scene in terror.

Police in Amritsar and Chandigarh first blamed the explosion on a leaking hydrogen gas cylinder that detonated when its owner, a balloon seller, became impatient during a power blackout and lighted a candle to illuminate his wares.

But a senior municipal official told reporters this afternoon that a probe by army experts indicated that a bomb was the cause.

'A preliminary investigation revealed it was a plastic explosive device,' said Deputy Amritsar Commissioner Sarabjit Singh.

Officials in the state Home Ministry in the Punjab capital of Chandigarh also confirmed the explosion was caused by a bomb.

A number of political parties, including the right-wing Hindu Shiv Sena and the Bharatiya Janata Party, denounced the attack and called a one-day strike that shut down most businesses and shops across the city.

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