Railway authorities canceled all night trains in an eastern Indian state on Saturday after a passenger express train derailed and was hit by a cargo train, killing at least 90 people and injuring hundreds. The government accused Maoist rebels of sabotaging the tracks.
Railway workers and paramilitary soldiers used cranes to lift and pry apart train cars to search for more bodies from the Jnaneswari Express, which was heading from Calcutta to suburban Mumbai when it derailed early Friday.
"The death toll now stands at 90, and there are 149 people with injuries in hospitals," said Soumitra Mazumdar, a railways spokesman.
"We are doing everything possible to pull the bodies from the wreckage," he said.
More bodies likely trapped
Railway officials said they believed bodies were still trapped between the engines of the two trains, which smashed together near the small town of Sardiha, about 90 miles west of Calcutta in West Bengal state.
Railway authorities said they would not run any trains at night in West Bengal for at least the next four days, when Indian Maoist rebels have called a general strike.
The area is a stronghold of the rebels, known as Naxalites, who have launched repeated and often-audacious attacks in recent months — despite government claims of a crackdown.
Just 11 days ago, the rebels ambushed a bus in central India, killing 31 police officers and civilians. A few weeks before that, 76 soldiers were killed in a rebel ambush — the deadliest attack by the rebels against government forces in the 43-year insurgency. There have been dozens of smaller attacks.
Officials vow justice
On Friday, the government vowed once again to crush the Naxalites.
"The Maoists have done this work," West Bengal Chief Minister Buddhadeb Bhattacharjee told reporters in Calcutta. "All-out efforts will be made to free the state and the country from this danger."
But analysts say the government is hobbled by vacillating policies, poorly trained and ill-armed security forces and vast tracts of India where the government has little influence and where poverty has brought considerable support to the Naxalites, who claim to be fighting on behalf of the rural poor.
The rebels, who have tapped into the poor's anger at being left out of the country's economic gains, are now present in 20 of the country's 28 states and have an estimated 10,000 to 20,000 fighters, according to the Home Ministry.
"There is an absence of government, there is an absence of competence in government, there is an absence of coherence in response," said Ajai Sahni, a New Delhi-based analyst with close ties to India's security establishment. "The purpose of the Maoists is not to resolve grievances but to harvest them, and there are numerous grievances in the country to harvest."
Details of crash still a mystery
In Sardiha, officials said the train tracks had been sabotaged but disagreed about exactly what had happened, with some saying it was caused by an explosion and others blaming cut rail lines.
Bhupinder Singh, the top police official in West Bengal, said posters from the People's Committee Against Police Atrocities, a group local officials believe is closely tied to the Maoists, had been found at the scene taking responsibility for the attack.
However, a spokesman for the group, Asit Mahato, denied any role, the Press Trust of India news agency reported.
The Maoists seldom claim credit for their attacks.
Railway Minister Mamata Banerjee said the Sardiha area had been the scene of earlier Naxalite attacks, and that trains were under orders to travel slowly through the region — in part so that drivers can keep watch for sabotaged tracks or bombs, and in part so the effects of a crash are lessened if a train does derail.