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76 dead in Mumbai attacks: Maharashtra Chief Minister
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Maharashtra Chief Minister Vilasrao Deshmukh early Thursday said the situation in Mumbai was grave following a series of terrorist attacks that killed at least 76 people Wednesday night.

"The situation is grave and we are keeping an eye on it," Deshmukh told reporters early in the morning.

However, police officials said the death toll was more than 80 and over 250 people were injured.

The chief minister said heavy security arrangements were in place and five columns of the Indian Army and two teams of naval commandos were deployed in Mumbai after the financial capital of India was attacked in a series of planned and synchronized actions by unidentified groups of terrorists.

He said central Home Minister Shivraj Patil and Home Secretary Madhukar Gupta would be in Mumbai along with 200 National Security Guard (NSG) commandos Thursday morning.

Terrorists struck at least seven places. According to the police, a group of terrorists opened fire at police and paramilitary forces outside Hotel Taj Intercontinental in south Mumbai between 10:15 p.m. and 10:30 p.m.

The police and the army have launched rescue operation to evacuate hostages held by terrorists in the hotel.

Deshmukh assured people that his government would take stringent action against the culprits. He asked people to remain indoors and maintain peace.

Patil said two terrorists were killed in gun battles with the police while at least nine were held.

Small groups of heavily armed terrorists had sneaked into busy public places, mostly in south Mumbai, in the dead of the night spreading panic in the crowded metropolis that has been a target of terror attacks in recent years.

"The terrorists have gone in and fired indiscriminately at certain places. They are still holed up in three places and gun- battles have been on (with security forces)."

Five people were killed in a bomb blast targeting a taxi in Vile Parle. The taxi was blown to pieces, police said.

The police officials said firing was on near Taj, a five-star hotel, where around 2,000 guests and staff were stranded.

The body of a foreign woman guest was recovered from the Taj hotel and two terrorists were holed up inside the building, a police official said. She was not immediately identified and her nationality was not known.

At least 90 percent of the 22-storey building was plunged into darkness as authorities cut off power in a precautionary measure.

In the wee hours of Thursday, there was an explosion on the top floor of the legendary hotel, leading to a major fire.

Minutes later, bullets were fired near the Hotel Trident - another five-star hotel barely a kilometer away from the Taj. Part of the hotel was said to be on fire. At least 1,000 tourists were inside the hotel, which is in a high-security zone and lies just behind the Air India and Maharashtra legislature buildings.

Those trapped in the two hotels included an unspecified number of foreign guests.

Officials said rescue operations had started and hostages were being evacuated as the army stormed the besieged hotels.

Suspected terrorists also opened indiscriminate firing near the railway station, the headquarters of the Central Railway, which remains crowded almost throughout the day.

As a precautionary measure, authorities suspended suburban and other railway services. But the train service was resumed early Thursday, nearly six hours after the station was shut.

Later in the night, two bomb blasts, one in Vile Parle, a residential suburb in north Mumbai, and another in Mazgaon, also injured an unspecified number of people, police officials said.

Firing also took place near the Metro cinema, barely a kilometer away from the CST. An eyewitness said the attackers hijacked a police vehicle after opening fire at two policemen in the vehicle.

All roads linking south Mumbai with the rest of the metropolis were barricaded. Elite Rapid Action Force (RAF) were pressed into action and the targeted locations were cordoned off. A crack team of 200 National Security Guards (NSG) were rushed from New Delhi to Mumbai late in the night.Prime Minister Manmohan Singh condemned the terror attack and assured all help to the state government.

Schools and colleges will remain closed Thursday although government will function normally, officials said.

(Xinhua News Agency November 27, 2008)

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