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Car blast kills 4 on highway in Indian Kashmir

A powerful car bomb exploded on a busy highway in Indian Kashmir on Wednesday, killing four people hours before a new chief minister was due to be sworn in, police said.
/ Source: news services

A suicide car bomb exploded on the outskirts of Indian Kashmir's main city Wednesday, killing four people and wounding a dozen more hours before a new chief minister was due to be sworn in, police and hospital officials said.

The explosion occurred in the Himalayan region's main city, Srinagar, where violence continues despite a tentative peace between India and Pakistan, which have fought two wars over the state.

India has been on high alert since the weekend, when three coordinated blasts killed 59 people and injured about 200 in the worst militant attack on the nation's capital.

Prime Minister Manmohan Singh told Pakistani President Pervez Musharraf that the bombings were probably linked to foreign elements and demanded that Pakistan act against terrorism directed against India.

The Jaish-e-Mohammad militant group, which has been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India, claimed responsibility in a call to a local news agency.

The caller who identified himself as Abu Qadama said that the blast was a suicide attack.

The attack near a security patrol came before a member of India's ruling Congress party, Ghulam Nabi Azad, was due to take the oath as the state's new chief minister for the next three years under a power-sharing agreement with a regional party.

Security was tight in Srinagar for Azad's swearing-in. Azad, 56, who was federal urban development and parliamentary affairs minister, has spent nearly his entire political career outside his home state, building his career in party backrooms.

Roadblock becomes flashpoint
According to a police officer who spoke on condition of anonymity, the car was stopped at a routine police roadblock in Nowgam, a suburb of Srinagar.

The car then exploded, killing three policemen and a civilian. The bomber was also killed in the blast, he said.

The officer, who was not authorized to speak to the media, said that several policemen and passers-by were injured in the blast.

In Srinagar's main hospital, at least a dozen civilians were being treated for shrapnel wounds.

Some of them were in a critical condition, said Manzoor Chanta, a doctor in the hospital's emergency room.

Violence in the region
Nearly a dozen Islamic rebel groups have been fighting for Kashmir's independence from India or its merger with Pakistan and more than 66,000 people have been killed since the outbreak of the armed uprising in 1989.

India accuses Pakistan of aiding and arming the militants at training camps on the Pakistani side of Kashmir — a charge Islamabad denies.

Both India and Pakistan claim the divided Himalayan region in its entirety and have fought two wars over it.

However, ties between the South Asian rivals have improved following a peace process, which began early last year and also in the wake of the massive Oct. 8 earthquake which struck Kashmir.

The two countries have stepped up cooperation to provide relief to the victims.

The attack was not in an area affected by the quake and the uprising has continued unabated.