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Screams, Silence as families collect bodies of Jaipur blast victims

JAIPUR, India (AFP) - A shock of thick black hair was all that peeped out from under a white sheet that covered a small body Wednesday at a morgue in Jaipur after serial bomb blasts killed at least 80 people.

Seven bombs went off along a main shopping stretch of the Indian city's old centre, also leaving 200 wounded late Tuesday.

The body on the stretcher belonged to 10-year-old Kanha Mahar, who had gone to a temple to the Hindu deity Hanuman on a traditional day to pray to the monkey god.

A sudden explosion left him with a huge gash in his head.

"We were looking for him all evening," said his uncle Jagdish Kumar Gathera, who found him at the hospital, unable to breathe.

The doctors ordered drugs but before they arrived the boy was dead.

Gathera and other family members looked on in shocked silence as Mahar's body was taken off a rusty white gurney and into an ambulance, leaving behind a pool of blood.

Volunteers of the right-wing Hindu organisation Rashtriya Swayamseval Sangh (RSS, National Volunteers Association), who were manning the short-staffed hospital mortuary said it was a scene that had played through the night.

Bodies had arrived from one of half a dozen blast sites, family members had to search for loved ones and corpses were put into the morgue's deep-freeze to preserve them for identification through the coming hot day.

With several of the bombs going off near Hindu temples, there were fears that Hindu-Muslim riots could break out, an ever-present worry in religiously divided India.

The nationalist Bharatiya Janata Party, which has links to the RSS and rules the western desert state of Rajasthan, of which Jaipur is the capital, called a strike Wednesday to protest at the bombings.

But in the hospital wards and at the morgue, both Hindus and Muslims, a strong minority in the city, were among the dead.

A man clad in a red shirt who arrived shortly after the Gatheras left, cried out in anguish when he saw his niece Arina Maruf, also 10, laid out on the gurney Mahar had just vacated -- one of only two the morgue appeared to have.

The little girl's head was a tousle of matted curls caked with dried blood and her eyes were still open as the volunteers carefully covered her with a white sheet.

Most of the explosions took place along the walled city's Johari bazaar, a strip of jewellers and clothes shops housed in the pink buildings with delicate filigreed windows that are the hallmark of Jaipur, known as the Pink City.

Jaipur is popular with foreign tourists but there were few in the city in mid-May, the hot season in northern India when temperatures soar above 40 degrees Celsius (104 Fahrenheit).

Shops were closed in the walled city Wednesday but ahead of an eight-hour curfew imposed from 9:00 am (0330 GMT), curious bystanders milled around the explosion spots, staring at shards of glass, the cracked windows of a car and a scattering of slippers.

Shortly before the curfew, viewed as a bid to stave off riots, seven trucks and vans of blue-fatigue clad paramilitary troops of India's Rapid Action Force sped through the drag to take up positions.

They were followed by police vans urging people through loudspeakers to go home and respect the curfew.

"I heard two explosions and I was wondering what happened. Then a bomb went off right in front of me," said Malchand Bagoria, who runs a fruit stall opposite one of the bomb sites, under a popular clothing store.

"Then I saw a woman's body go flying through the air. There were so many bodies."

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