India remained on high alert Wednesday to prevent sectarian violence in the aftermath of bomb attacks that killed 20 people and wounded more than 50 in a holy Hindu city in Uttar Pradesh state.
Armed police guarded temples and other holy sites across the country Wednesday, the day after bombs ripped through a temple and a rail station in Varanasi - one of the most sacred cities for Hindus.
Authorities sealed off the city as concerns ran high that the blasts could spark a backlash from Hindu groups, who blame Muslim militants for the violence.
Alok Sinha, Home Secretary of Uttar Pradesh, said anti-riot squads have been deployed throughout the state.
"All big cities, all small towns, especially all religious places, especially Ayodhya and Mathura, have been put on high alert, leave of all policemen has been cancelled," said Sinha. "We will ensure that communal harmony is not disrupted by any means."
Varanasi was mostly shut down by a strike called by Hindu nationalist groups to protest the bombings, but the city remained calm. The scores of temples that dot the city conducted morning prayers including the Sankat Mochan temple, one of the targets of Tuesday's explosions. Local religious leaders joined the government in appealing for peace.
However, slogan-shouting Hindu groups held marches in the city's narrow alleys, accusing the government of ignoring security threats.
In New Delhi, angry opposition lawmakers of the rightwing Bharatiya Janata Party also shouted slogans in parliament, blaming the government for failing to tackle terrorism.
In a statement, Home Minister Shivraj Patil said the Sankat Mochan temple was targeted to cause communal tension in the country. But he said the violence would not undermine the country's determination to combat such attacks.
Meanwhile, in the Uttar Pradesh capital of Lucknow, police say they gunned down an Islamic militant belonging to the Laskhar-e-Taiba group, which is fighting Indian rule in Kashmir. They said he might be linked to the bombings in the holy city.
Two other militants of Lashkar-e-Taiba were killed in New Delhi, but it is also not clear if they had any connection to the bombings. The group has been blamed for previous terror attacks in the country.
Several countries, including Pakistan, the United States and Britain, have condemned the attacks. The terror strike in Varanasi took place four months after coordinated blasts hit New Delhi just days before the Hindu festival of Diwali.