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Weekend blasts claim 50 lives in southern India

Six militants died Sunday when a bomb exploded prematurely in a house during a police raid, raising the death toll in a series of weekend blasts in southern India to 50, police said.

Another eight militants were arrested during the police sweep at the home in Coimbatore, 1,500 miles south of New Delhi, police said. Three officers were injured in the operation.The identities of the suspects and the organization to which they belonged were not immediately known, police said.

Just hours before the raid, 13 explosions rocked Coimbatore, killing 44 people and injuring more than 120 on Saturday.

No one immediately claimed responsibility for the blasts, but authorities suspected radical Muslim groups formed after followers of the Hindu Nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party destroyed an ancient mosque in 1992.

The explosions Saturday occurred near the area where the leader of Bharatiya Janata was to address an election rally, police said. If the bombings were election-related, they would be the worst outbreak of violence in what has been so far an unusually peaceful campaign.

A leader of one of the Muslim groups, S.A. Basha, was arrested at his home in Madras Saturday night and charged with illegally storing explosives. Police were investigating whether he was linked to the bombings.

United News of India reported that police arrested hundreds of other people linked to Basha's group, known as Al-Umma, and seized crude bombs and other weapons in a crackdown on Muslim militants.

Residents of Coimbatore are scheduled to vote Feb. 22 in the second stage of the parliamentary elections. Voting is staggered by region over six nonconsecutive days to allow paramilitary forces time to deploy at different trouble spots.

The bombings sparked clashes between Hindu and Muslim mobs Saturday night, but the area was calm Sunday morning. Some Muslim families left their homes in Coimbatore fearing attacks.

About 2,000 army personnel patrolled the streets to check possible violence and were ordered to shoot at sight anyone who broke a strictly enforced curfew.

Despite the tight security, another bomb thrown at a radio repair shop in the heart of town exploded Sunday evening, injuring one person, police said.