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Star delinks blast and protest

Dec. 12: Rushed to the airport from Colombo's blast-ripped concert site, Shah Rukh Khan returned to Mumbai early this morning, leaving the Sri Lankan capital with words that sought to distance the incident from the controversy he got sucked into.

Shah Rukh and fellow Mumbai stars, Saif Ali Khan and Preity Zinta, escaped unhurt from the explosion that killed two Sri Lankans and injured several children who were in the sell-out 25,000-strong audience at the race course grounds in Colombo.

Former Test cricketer Ravi Shastri's wife, Ritu, was among those hurt and was discharged after being treated for minor injuries in a private hospital.

After the blast ' some reports said the bomb was hurled at the stage when Shah Rukh was performing at the end of the show but fell short ' the three were whisked away to the airport.

Earlier, Temptation 2004, as the concert was labelled, had fallen foul of a section of the largely Buddhist Sinhala population as it coincided with the first anniversary of the death of a widely respected monk, Gangodawila Soma.

Police used tear gas to disperse the crowds and arrested more than a dozen protesters who wanted the concert postponed.

'This has nothing to do with that agitation. It is not related at all. We had paid our homage to the Buddhist messiah who had expired a year back,' said Shah Rukh.

Buddhist monks called off protests after Shah Rukh apologised for the timing of the concert and promised to observe a minute's silence at the start of the show in memory of the monk.

On reaching Mumbai, Shah Rukh said the incident would not deter him from holding similar shows. He extended sympathies to the families of those killed and hurt. A 21-year-old freelance photojournalist and a 25-year-old woman, an employee at the hotel where the Indian stars were staying, died in the blast.

A spokesman for the event organisers said Shah Rukh was rushed backstage after the blast and was a 'bit rattled'.

The police said a hand grenade was thrown into the VIP section of the audience, where each ticket cost Rs 10,000. One police source said the assailant had attempted to throw the grenade at the stage.

Saif said Shah Rukh was near the site of the blast. 'There was a big explosion on stage when Shah Rukh was performing at the end of the show,' Saif said. 'I believe this is a terrorist act.'

A member on Saif's staff said on the star's return to Mumbai that 'he is safe'.

'Though the incident shook him (Saif), we know that he will be able to take it in his stride, since he is a tough guy.'

Senior superintendent of police Sarath Lugoda told Reuters: 'There were close to 1,500 police and military personnel providing security here. We are baffled as to how the attacker smuggled in the grenade.'

'A lot of people, including those on stage, thought it was part of the fireworks. When people saw some fans bleeding, they realised something was wrong,' a witness said.

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