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India calls off rail security drill after station chaos

(Reuters circulated the following article on November 14.)

MUMBAI -- A huge anti-terror drill at two busy railway stations in India's financial hub was called off on Tuesday after security agencies failed to cope with hundreds of thousands of rush-hour commuters, officials said.

The drill was to test the security preparedness of India's biggest city whose teeming rail network was hit by serial bomb blasts in July in which 186 people were killed, an attack blamed on an Islamist militant group fighting Indian rule in Kashmir.

The security exercise involved searching every passenger passing through the two stations -- which handle more than 2.5 million commuters every day -- and checking their baggage through x-ray machines.

"We have decided not to go ahead with the security drill because there are just too many people to check," said railway spokesman A.K. Singh, adding that there was no plan to try it again anytime soon.

The exercise went off well on Sunday, but chaotic scenes broke out on Monday evening as tens of thousands of rush-hour commuters had to stand in long lines to go through just a few metal-detectors.

An hour into the checking, people's frustration boiled over, forcing railway officials to remove the detectors and carry out a token frisking operation.

"It's a failure. Too many people to handle," said Satyaprakash, another railway official, who uses only one name.

Security experts say India's vast railway network, which carries about 14 million passengers everyday, is a soft target for attackers, who placed bombs on luggage racks of Mumbai's unchecked commuter trains and platforms in July.

About 700 people were wounded in those attacks.

Tuesday, November 14, 2006

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