NEW DELHI (AP) – Near-simultaneous explosions rocked the Indian capital Saturday evening, tearing through a bus and two markets crowded with people shopping for gifts for a Hindu festival. At least 58 people were killed and dozens wounded in the blasts, which the government blamed on terrorists.

Police declared a state of emergency and closed all city markets. Prime Minister Manmohan Singh urged calm while denouncing the apparently coordinated bombings, which came amid unprecedented Indian-Pakistani talks on opening the Kashmir border a week from Monday to facilitate aid for survivors of the region’s devastating Oct. 8 earthquake.

“These are dastardly acts of terrorism,” Singh said in a brief televised statement. “We shall defeat their nefarious designs and will not allow them to succeed. We are resolute in our commitment to fighting terrorism in all forms.”

Asked who was responsible, he would only say “there are several clues.”

The Indian government faces opposition from dozens of militant groups – particularly Kashmiri separatists, some of whom also oppose the peace process between Pakistan and India.

The first explosion hit at 5:45 p.m. in New Delhi’s main Paharganj market, leaving behind bloodstained streets and mangled stalls of wood and twisted metal. Within minutes came an explosion at the popular Sarojini Nagar market and the bus blast in the Govindpuri neighborhood. Police said at least 60 people were wounded in the first blast and dozens in the other two.

The attacks targeted the many people shopping just days before the festival of Diwali, a major Hindu holiday during which families exchange gifts, light candles and celebrate with fireworks. The markets where the blasts occurred often sell fireworks that are elaborate and potentially dangerous.

“When I got up, there were people everywhere – they were bleeding and screaming,” said Anil Gupta about 45 minutes after the blast as he sifted through the wreckage of his jewelry store. Scattered around his feet were bracelets, necklaces and earrings.

The explosions erupted just hours after India and Pakistan began talks on opening their heavily militarized border in disputed Kashmir to bring food, shelter and medical aid to victims of the Himalayan region’s massive quake. The quake killed about 80,000 people and left an estimated 3.3 million homeless, with fears for their lives growing as winter approaches.

Under the agreement announced early Sunday, the two sides will open five crossings on Nov. 7 at five points across the Line of Control, the cease-fire line that divides the Himalayan region over which the archrivals have fought two wars. Relief items would be handed over to local authorities at the crossing points, the foreign ministry statement said.

Pakistan quickly condemned the New Delhi explosions Saturday, issuing a statement saying: “The attack in a crowded market place is a criminal act of terrorism. The people and government of Pakistan are shocked at this barbaric act and express deep sympathy with the families of the victims,” a Foreign Ministry statement said.

British Foreign Secretary Jack Straw called the blasts “yet another example of terrorists’ cynical and callous disregard for human life.”

Home Minister Shivraj Patil urged people to stay off the streets. He said 39 people were killed in Sarojini Nagar, a popular shopping district. Fire department official Sham Lal said at least 16 people died in the Paharganj market blast, and three others were killed on the bus.

Babu Lal Khandelwal, a shop owner in the Paharganj market, an area near the train station packed with small shops and inexpensive hotels often filled with foreign backpackers, said the blast knocked him to the ground.

“There was black smoke everywhere,” he said. “When the smoke was cleared and I could see, there were people bloody and people lying in the street.”

A witness to the second blast, Satinder Lal Sharma, said some boys warned him about an unclaimed bag near a tree and he “started shouting ‘Run! Run!”‘ just before the explosion. It destroyed several shops and left the tree charred and without leaves.

Govind Singh, who sells wallets and toys on cart next to a juice shop devastated in the explosion, said at least five people from his village were killed.

“I took out at least 20 bodies, most of them were children,” Singh said. He and others wrapped the bodies in sheets taken from one of the destroyed shops.

Associated Press writer Neelesh Misra contributed to this report.


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