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Blast rocks Indonesian market

Palu, Indonesia, Dec. 31 (Reuters): A bomb packed with nails exploded in a crowded Christian market selling pork ahead of New Year celebrations in eastern Indonesia today, killing at least seven people and wounding 53, police said.

The early morning blast in Palu, capital of volatile Central Sulawesi province, came after warnings of militant violence during the Christmas and New Year season in Indonesia. But it appeared to be linked to regional tensions, not international Islamic militancy.

Indonesia is predominantly Muslim but its east has large pockets of Christians, to whom pork is not forbidden.

Bystanders carried bleeding shoppers from the makeshift market to a road, putting them in passing cars to be taken to hospital. One man screamed as he held up his bloodied arms.

“Suddenly there was a flash of light and a really loud bang. We were all thrown to the ground,” one wounded pork seller told El Shinta radio from his hospital bed.

“I saw many buyers who had lost their legs. We just tried to save ourselves by fleeing the market.”

“It was a homemade bomb. It was full of nails,” said police spokesman Major-General Paulus Purwoko in Jakarta.

Central Sulawesi police said seven of the 60 people reported injured had died, and that security was being tightened, especially in places of worship.

The official Antara news agency said another bomb had been found and defused near the market in Palu, 1,650 km northeast of Jakarta.

“This was done by outside perpetrators to create an unstable situation in Palu,” Rusdi Masura, mayor of South Palu regency, said.

Intercommunal violence has killed thousands since the downfall of longtime autocrat Suharto in 1998.

Fighting between Muslims and Christians in central Sulawesi from 1998 to 2001 killed 2,000 people, mainly around the Muslim town of Poso. Since then, violence has been sporadic. Last October three teenage Christian girls were beheaded near Poso. Bomb attacks last May in the Christian town of Tentena killed 22 people.

The nation of 220 million people has experienced several bomb attacks on Western targets as well, mostly blamed on Jemaah Islamiah, a group seen as al Qaida’s Southeast Asian arm.

The deadliest killed 202 people, mostly tourists, on the island of Bali in 2002.

But national police spokesman Purwoko said the Palu blast was not typical of those planned by Noordin M. Top, a Malaysian who is the most main identified Jemaah leader still thought to be at large in Indonesia.

Last month police killed Azahari Husin, another alleged Jemaah Islamiah leader.

In his New Year address, President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono said the country could not drop its guard on the security front.

“The situation last year was coloured by conflict and terrorist acts. Although the main offender of the terrorist movement has been paralysed, the big job is still not finished,” he said.

Security expert Ken Conboy, in Jakarta, said the Palu violence was unlikely to spread beyond the district. “The greater terrorist scare has been more focused on Java, and specifically on Jakarta.”

And this is something separate.

”This was probably extremists because they targeted a part of a market that was selling pork, which would seem to indicate sectarian violence between the religions. Or an attempt at least to spark sectarian violence,” he said.

”In the past few years, although there have been a lot a provocations, it doesn't seem to have much of a spillover effect, it seems to stay contained. It certainly doesn't go outside of Central Sulawesi.” (Additional reporting by Telly Nathalia, Muklis Ali and Sugita Katyal in Jakarta)

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