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. Last Updated: 07/27/2016

India Bombings Spark Protests

VARANASI, India -- Security forces were deployed to holy sites across India on Wednesday after terror bombings killed 20 people in Hinduism's holiest city, sparking anger among its residents and concerns of possible widespread sectarian violence.

A mob of angry Hindus briefly blocked the motorcade of Mulayam Singh Yadav, the chief minister of Uttar Pradesh state, when he visited the scene of the Tuesday bombings at a crowded railway station and temple in the northern city of Varanasi on the holy Ganges River.

Yadav, whose party champions the cause of Muslims and lower-caste Hindus, inspected the site Wednesday under heavy protection while slogans against him rang around him.

Varanasi, meanwhile, was largely shut down by a strike called by Hindu nationalist groups to protest the bombings. Markets were closed and vehicles kept off the roads. Authorities also ordered that schools be closed because of the strike call.

But there was no sign of wider violence in reaction to the attack.

"There is peace now, but what happened yesterday is horrible," said Jugal Kishore Chaurasiya, a local grocer. "There is fear, but I am proud that even after this act of terrorism there has been amity between the two sides. We are trying to maintain peace."

Cities across India were on high alert after the bombings, and Indian Prime Minister Manmohan Singh appealed for calm.

"It is a terrorist attack. It has all the characteristics of a terrorist attack," said Principal Secretary Alok Sinha, the state's top home ministry official. "We are not sure about the group involved. The [anti-terrorist] Special Task Force has started investigations into the matter."

Investigators believe a young man who may have seen the bombers can provide police with clues to their identities, and are working with him to make sketches of the men.

Two men came to the young man's shop in Varanasi's Gaudaliya market and left a bag there, promising to return later. When they did not return he called the police, who notified the bomb squad. They found and defused a bomb, said a federal intelligence official, speaking on condition of anonymity as he is barred from talking to the media.

Soldiers and police were sent to guard prominent religious pilgrimage spots across the country of 1.02 billion people, which is about 84 percent Hindu but also has a sizable Muslim minority and millions of followers of many other religions.

Five people died overnight in hospitals, adding to the 15 people killed Tuesday evening in the series of coordinated bombings in the city, said local Superintendent of Police Paresh Pandey.

Pandey said 58 people were still being treated in different hospitals, 35 of them in serious condition.

Yadav said "stern action will be initiated against all those found involved."

Hours after the bombings, the Uttar Pradesh state anti-terrorist squad said it had killed a suspected Islamic militant, said Special Task Force Deputy Chief Rajesh Pandey. But Pandey said it was not known whether he was linked to the Varanasi bombings. The man was killed early Wednesday in a gun battle after a tip from police in the Indian portion of Kashmir.

In the Indian capital, New Delhi, police also shot two suspected militants as they were entering the city in a car early Wednesday, said Karnal Singh, a joint commissioner of police. Police recovered one AK-56 assault rifle, four hand grenades, 51 bullets and explosives from them, Singh said. It was also unclear if they were tied to the Varanasi attack in any way.